Politics & Policy

Hillary at Chipotle

Dining with the little people
The party of the future rallies behind an elderly suburban WASP lawyer whose father was a conservative businessman.

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s immigrant grandparents turn out not to have been immigrants, just as Elizabeth Warren’s Indian ancestors turn out not to have been Indians, though Mrs. Clinton was one-quarter truthful about her ancestry, which is a hell of a lot more than Senator Warren can say. That’s too bad, really: If the imaginary Rodhams of old arrived on these shores and tricked the imaginary ur-Warrens into trading their land for a handful of shiny trinkets, that would have been a much better story than the burning question of whether Herself tipped at Chipotle.

It would also be a pretty good metaphor for the upcoming election.

But back to the big news: Of course Mrs. Clinton didn’t tip. Herself has a date with destiny, and cash-handling is for the little people. John F. Kennedy Jr.’s colleagues at George (remember George?) used to shake their heads about the fact that the vastly wealthy young man was forever cadging coffee money off underlings — $100 million in the trust fund, but no latte money in his pocket. It’s weird being a super-rich person who has never had a real job.

Ask Herself.

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Faced with the inspiring stories of the Rubio and Cruz families, the Democrats are suffering from a little hardscrabble envy, and a little immigrant envy. Senator Ted Cruz’s father was born in Cuba in the 1930s and fought in the overthrow of the Batista regime before immigrating to the United States. Senator Marco Rubio’s father left Cuba only a few months before Senator Cruz’s father, and the Rubios made a modest living in the sorts of jobs often held by immigrants, he as a hotel bartender, she as a housekeeper. Other Republicans have noted the modest origins of Governor Scott Walker, son of a Baptist preacher and famously a college dropout who has made something of himself.

Having spent the Obama years boasting that they are the party of the future — the party of immigrants, ethnic minorities, young people, etc. — the Democrats are rallying behind an elderly suburban WASP lawyer from Park Ridge whose father was a wealthy, conservative businessman. That’s an awkward story.

So just make up a new one, right?

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Practically all American presidential candidates have a problem in common: They feel the need to present themselves as heroic, unique, transformational, once-in-a-generation figures whose elevation to the highest office in the land enjoys something like the Mandate of Heaven — but they also have to pretend to be ordinary schmucks who like to eat at Chipotle. Every presidential candidate is a messianic figure — a messiah who is . . . just like you!

This is a bit more of a problem for Democrats than it is for Republicans, because the Democrats’ go-to strategy is to dismiss the Republicans as the tools of the Wicked Rich, which is slightly more difficult when you are the Wicked Rich — Mrs. Clinton’s household income has exceeded $100 million since her husband left what we’re still calling (ho-ho!) public service. Her father owned a textile company. Senator Rubio’s story is not that.

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If you should happen to order guacamole on your burrito bowl at Chipotle — including at the Chipotle on Park Avenue in midtown Manhattan — your burrito artist will inform you, gravely: “Guac’s extra.” However different their personal circumstances, neither Mrs. Clinton nor Senator Rubio is the sort of person who has to worry very much about the fact that guacamole is extra.

A few weeks ago, I was at a Subway in a small town in Michigan, and there was a woman in front of me who was making the most complicated Subway order I ever have witnessed, i.e., a foot-long sandwich with different ingredients on each half — peppers on one half, no peppers on the other, onions and olives on the no-peppers half, etc. She paid with small coins and divided the sandwich with her friend — a single foot-long sandwich costs less than two six-inch sandwiches, and as she counted out the last pennies, it was obvious that this made a difference. The two shared a fountain drink, which I gather is against Subway policy, but nobody was making a fuss about it.

#related#William Weld, criticized as an out-of-touch trust-funder by Teddy Kennedy, of all people, had the good sense to own it, declaring with mock indignation: “My family arrived in this country in 1630 with nothing but the shirts on their backs — and 2,000 pounds of gold.” Mitt Romney, despite sage advice that he follow suit, was never as comfortable with his wealth.

Those two women in a dead-end Michigan town, not starving but far from prospering, literally counting their pennies — they will have to endure a great deal of unhappiness in life. Having that unhappiness made into an instrument of ambition for conniving politicians who pantomime the lives of “everyday Americans” only adds insult to injury.

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