Her boyfriend had been one of the most popular and best students in the history of Just Like High School. He played first-chair saxophone in the Just Like High band. He won Anything That Got Decided By a Vote or a Debate. He got elected Governor of Boys State, and when he went with the other Boy Governors to Washington D.C. for their big national convention, he shook hands with President John F. Kennedy himself, and not only that, he'd gotten another Boy Governor to take a picture of it, and that picture had been on the front page of the local paper. He never had to study and got straight A's, in part because he was so gosh-darn good at kissing faculty ass. He charmed everyone. He empathized with the geeks, joked with the jocks and flirted with the cheerleaders. No one was surprised when he got a full ride to Yale. Everybody said he'd be President of the United States someday.
She knew about his dark side, of course. Everyone did. He owned a volcanic temper that once caused him to threaten the Sophomore Homecoming Float Committee with a chainsaw. It was all over school that he'd been spotted parked in the back row of the drive-in during a Billy Jack double feature with a precociously-boobed eighth-grader named Monica. She knew, because her father and brother both told her, that he cheated at golf. She'd heard the rumors that he'd been seeing strippers in New Haven.
Her faith in him remained strong, however, to the point of absoluteness. The nastier the gossip got about Bill, the higher Hillary held her chin -- as if her ability to accept his flaws conveyed the strength of her own character. And do you know what? For that, the students loved her, too. Seems that most of the kids had some kind of creepy or crappy situation they were dealing with in their own lives, and Hillary served as a reminder to them that they could rise above it.
Her base was solid. She was an exemplary student who always delivered above and beyond the classroom assignments, and for this the school's administrators praised and rewarded her in every way they knew how. She surrounded herself with a lot of smarty pants sycophants who took Latin 3 and 4, and sang in the choir, folks who faithfully spread her gospel through the school's most gossipy channels.
Not that Hillary was without flaws herself. She could be a harsh know-it-all -- the girl who screamed at her teammates in P.E. to pass her the ball, because couldn't they see she was open?!!! Idiots! As Copy Editor, she insisted -- over protests from faculty advisers and fellow editors -- on writing every single line of copy in the school yearbook. Her plan for a school-wide campaign to send candy to the boys in Vietnam fell apart when she parked herself by the vending machines at lunch and hectored people into handing over their Zagnut and Zero bars. Nobody liked that.
Still, she was generally conceded to be shoo-in for student body president. Who was going to run against her? Some skinny sophomore with a funny name who was rumored to be a Muslim? Dennis from the A-V club? Pullll-lease! This thing was hers. Just like it had been Bill's. He'd been elected twice, in fact, Junior and Senior year. They were a dynasty, these two, there was not a student at Just Like High School who didn't believe that, and no one believed it more than Hillary.
Then she started noticing the clusters of kids around the skinny sophomore's locker between classes. These kids weren't the losers you'd expect a mulatto transfer student and suspected Muslim to attract. No, these were the cream of the school: Oprah, who'd been in a Spielberg film; Caroline, whose family had money; Dave, whose band played at all the school dances; and LeBron, a sophomore baller everybody said would turn pro straight out of high school. The breadth of the sophomore's appeal both escaped and disturbed her.
One day a few weeks before the election dozens of skillfully silk-screened campaign posters of Barack Obama appeared overnight on the school walls. And the funny thing was, as deep as her network of spies operated within the student body, they could not find out who designed those posters, or how he'd paid for them. She knew he didn't have that kind of money, that was the first thing she learned about a person. He was raised by a single mom who worked at a Goodwill store, for cripe's sake. No, there was something definitely wrong here, an upheaval in the natural narrative of things, and she - the only student at JLHS who used a Franklin Planner, the well-ordered individual who coded her textbooks in four different hi-liter colors and planned her wardrobe a week in advance - did not welcome the upheaval one iota.
He had the same perfect GPA that she did -- a highly-placed source in the principal's office told her that -- but he was not a great debater on the facts, and that was a fact, Jack. Not a star like her, anyway, who could take any position and defend it to a fare-thee-well. He said 'ummm' and 'you know' a lot, and stammered when gathering his thoughts, bad speaking habits she'd kicked as a third-grader after catching a ton of flak from her perfectionist dad.
He smoked, which her dad always said was an indicator of a weak constitution. When she realized he was campaigning for the student smoker vote, it offended her sense of fair play, although she couldn't quite put her finger on what was unfair about it.
When the candidates gave their speeches to the student body -- there were only two of them since she had bribed Dennis with un-sent Vietnam candy into dropping out of the race - Hillary meticulously laid out her plans for the coming year: Outdoor charity bingo games on the school tennis courts; a revised plan to send candy to our boys in Vietnam; halftime acknowledgments of student achievers - to be called Attaboy and Attagirl Awards-- at football and basketball games; a demand to re-pave the school parking lot (she thought for sure this would be an applause line; it was not); and thirty other good ideas for which she had coalitions pre-built to see them through.
And then this Obama kid actually had the balls to follow her up there and SING his campaign speech! What was that about? It was about nothing, that's what. Who put together the guy's platform? Lionel Ritchie? The students went wild, of course, even the Seniors, who should've known better than to fall for something like that. Idiots!
Bill came home from Yale for a few days to help her campaign, but everyone thought that was kind of weird, and she was soon soldiering on alone, and losing her support left and right. The A-V club got behind Obama, followed by the National Honor Society, then the basketball team, which was to be expected, and then in a complete shocker, her very own brother, Baby Hughie, announced to the family over dinner one evening that he thought Obama "was going to beat Hillary." Idiot! When had Baby Hughie ever been right about anything? Never, that's when.
In the increasingly rare moments when she was honest with herself, she could admit that the thing that bothered her most about Barack Obama was how much he reminded her of Bill. How at ease and conversant he was with students of every stripe. Furthermore, as far as anyone could tell, he did not have Bill's dark side. Well, unless you count his skin color. (Hmm, she thought. Note to file.)
She played every trick Bill had taught her, exercised every discipline instilled in her by her dad. She invented stories about herself in which she was the hero. She took her case to the faculty that expelled and suspended students be allowed to vote. She swallowed her pride and drank with the drinkers she secretly loathed, and tried to reclaim grade school friends she had cut off when they got to high school. She started handing out Sacajawea coins to people who promised to vote for her. Nothing seemed to work.
Growing more and more desperate to claim the office that was rightfully hers, she analyzed the "Obama-nation" as she called it, and surmised that the source of his power was his appeal to the pathetic hopes and dreams of people who didn't matter. To guys who wanted join the Navy out of school, or drive a road grader, to indifferent students whose highest aspiration was to have a family and a job someday. To clumsy jayvee players who wanted to make the varsity, and to lonely kids who wanted friends. Pure pandering, she thought, all of it, and none of it had anything to do with who'd make the better President, who'd "get 'er done" as her dad liked to say.
And so, facing what she knew would be an uphill battle, she set about restoring the narrative to its rightful plot by destroying Obama's reputation at Just Like High School. She tapped into the crappy and creepy situations every student was dealing with, and blamed it all on her rival. Her team of loyalists spread rumors about Obama being a secret Muslim - or a holy roller, depending on their audience. About him hanging out with students from their cross-town rivals at Hamas Tech. About his drug use.
As if it were a biology assignment, she methodically listed every difference she could find between Obama and the electorate and began driving wedges between those differences, making them wider and more pronounced. She and her minions focused on what he was not -- not one of them, not born here, not an insider, not a girl, not a drinker, and on top of all that, he was not...wink, wink, nudge, nudge...white.
Soon a kind of toxic cloud settled over Just Like High School. There were fights in the hallways and racial divides in the cafeteria like the school hadn't seen since the 1960s. She knew her tactics were taking hold when someone covered Obama's locker with Curious George stickers.
Then one night after a basketball game, some straight-edge kids jumped Obama out behind the Tastee Freeze and beat him up pretty bad. He had to go to the hospital and get thirty-four stitches.
That is when she finally understood that in seeking to destroy Obama's reputation, in doing him harm, she was, in fact, doing her boyfriend's work. It was Bill who needed to defeat the newcomer. Not she. It was Bill, in their many late night phone calls, who had written the script for Obama's demise, not she. She even had a fleeting thought that maybe Bill didn't want her to win, either. The Shogun, after all, assures his place in history by choreographing chaos in his wake.
I would like to say that she resigned from her campaign the very next day, but she did not. She lifted her chin and kept on going, campaigning so stridently that one teacher commented at the time, "Hillary will still be running a month after she loses the election."
Mike Bonifer is the author of GameChangers - Improvisation for Business in the Networked World. His website is www.gamechangers.com.