This could be make or break week for Hillary Clinton. She still has the money, the name recognition, and the big donors, but her sinking poll numbers say the public is finally on to her, and besides, who wants the distractions of another round of Flem Snopes and his kin in the White House?
The first Democratic debate Tuesday night could supply more questions, if the interlocutors are up to it. Nobody expects answers. Hillary and the old man have successfully got away with murder speaking figuratively, of course for years. Bubba learned how to do it back home in Arkansas, and Hillary, though a yankee gal, was a bright and eager pupil.
Her slump in the polls is remarkable, down 10 points in a week, and the debate might be heaven sent speaking figuratively again if she stays on the lines written for her and doesn't set out on her own. A lot of people will be watching, and some of them may be listening as well. It's still a long way to Iowa, and the caucuses that will actually say something about delegates. But the pollster primary is crucial to who collects the money that's the mother's milk of politics, before it sours, curdles and evaporates. Hillary's milk men are getting nervous and the rattle of the bottles is enough to wake the baby.
She dare not look back, because Bernie Sanders is gaining on her, and that shadow in the bushes ahead is Joe Biden laying an ambush. She has had a miserable summer, and the bright blue weather expected of October promises nothing better. Martin O'Malley is not likely to hurt her in the debate, but Jim Webb, the other 1 percenter in the race, is a Marine, eager for a scrap and one of the last authentic Democrats. He could make the evening entertaining.
Her momentum has long since stalled. The "inevitable" nominees, so christened by the know-it-alls in the newspapers and particularly on the television screens, always have rough patches. Once gone, momentum is difficult to restore. Besides, we've seen this movie before. Several times. The Clintons have a remarkable gift for surviving catastrophe and impending doom always announces itself with a brass lining. She and Bubba have had more close calls than Indiana Jones, and theirs is the longest-running soap opera since the invention of the vacuum tube made radio possible. Al Jolson's vaudeville act never had such staying power. They put in the deep shade Al's famous promise that "you ain't seen nothin' yet."
Every act has its day, and in our innocence we thought we saw that day arrive several times. Hillary worked hard in the early days in Arkansas to play the dutiful wife, understanding that she had to be careful not to offend the voters whom she imagined were hoosiers and hayseeds. She prospered as the governor's wife in a place abundant with opportunities, learning to indulge the greed and avarice she would practice one day with higher stakes.
Hillary has always been extraordinarily lucky; coincidences have always broken her way. No one skates closer to the line between power and prison than she, proving once more that fortune doesn't always smile on the brazen, but that's the way to bet. Nothing tells the Hillary story quite like her adventures in the cattle futures market when she was a housewife in Little Rock, trying to make a little extra money for her family, taking 15-cent tax deductions for Bubba's old underwear (in all fairness, rarely worn) contributed to thrift stores. When Bubba became the governor, there were greater opportunities.
She fell in with James Blair, a lawyer for Tyson's, the chicken pluckers and meat packers, and he introduced her to a broker who could make her rich, essentially by adding up the profits of all his clients and apportioning shares of the pot, which largely went to Hillary. Lawyers are keen to make a housewife rich, particularly if her husband is the governor whose administration makes his clients rich. If you get the drift.
Hillary was an overnight sensation in the futures markets, parlaying an initial investment of $1,000 into a hundred-fold fortune in four weeks. Nobody had ever done it before. "I didn't think it was that big of a risk," she said, modestly. "[Mr. Blair] and the people he was talking with knew what they were doing." No doubt. Numbers men everywhere tried to figure out how she did it, assuming that how she did it was, ah, legal, or at least ethical. Two university economists set up a computer model that calculated her chances of doing it were 1 in 31 trillion. Mere catnip for a Clinton.