A small but significant sea change began to take hold after a new “dump” from Hillary Clinton’s virtual correspondence as Secretary of State left amateurs and professionals alike combing through screen shots and transcripts of emails. What we found was less political scandal and more pop culture treasure trove.
Of course, DC-oriented Vox and Mother Jones both immediately declared that the emails revealed Hillary’s life to be more Veep than House of Cards, more trivial and petty than Machiavellian — but I think they also helped remind us that Hillary can be both a pro and a person, which might actually help her connect to voters, and to the media.
Many an armchair pundit evolved from utterly uninterested in Hillary “emailgate” to gleefully tweeting jokes about Clinton’s relationship with traditional Jewish food gefilte fish in a few short hours, because the best email of all was the email with the subject line, “Gefilte Fish” and the text, “Where are we on this?”
This was a pithy email that inspired dozens of “explainers” from political websites. Yahoo: “That time Hillary Clinton emailed about gefilte fish.” Washington Post: “The story behind the funniest email Hillary Clinton has ever sent.” Huffington Post: “The Story Behind Hillary Clinton’s Mysterious Gefilte Fish Email.” And, of course, Tablet: “Hillary Clinton’s Gefilte Fish Email, Explained.”
The story goes like this: there was a minor trade dispute around the stuff (which, in case you weren’t familiar, is a kind of sweet loaf made with carp fish and served with horseradish at holidays). A shipment from the States to Israel was snarled up in red tape, and that was the reason for Clinton’s email.
Another widely circulated missive was a list of requests to her staff, including skim milk for her tea, and a question about the air times of The Good Wife and Parks and Recreation, which couldn’t be more perfect if we at Flavorwire scheduled her viewing for her.
The Good Wife follows the evolution a cheated-on political wife into a powerful, ruthless politician in her own right. Sounds familiar! And Parks and Recreation showcases the tale of a bona fide Hillary stan, Leslie Knope, whose twin values are woman power and humble, hardworking good government. Sure, Clinton had to ask her staffer to tell her the showtimes instead of, oh, looking at her TV schedule or googling it, but is that any different from our moms and grandparents asking us the same kind of question?
Clinton sounds rather polite and thankful in this and other emails, much more in the Leslie Knope vein than I expected. If her “stiffness” and supposed lack of common touch are stumbling blocks for the candidate, either because of sexism or just because of her personal affect, then learning about her eagerness to be taught the workings of her iPad for the first time and seeing her somewhat bizarre exchanges with staffers can only help soften her image.
BuzzFeed Politics has cleverly started a single-use Twitter account, “the Clinton email,” devoted to screenshots of more fascinating tidbits from the emails, including rather fawning notes from Bono and Diane Von Furstenberg. (OK, she may watch the same TV as us, but she’s not exactly like us.)
Young journalists may be eager to mock much of the email dump’s content, and some of it is definitely mockable. But it also lets us into the life of a powerful and somewhat mysterious politician, and in doing so, humanizes her.