Politics & Policy

On the Road with Hillary Clinton

From New York to Iowa, a journey through the real America with a larger-than-life candidate.

I first met Hillary not long after the midterms. I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about, except that it had something to do with voting Republican and my feeling that America was dead. But with the coming of Hillary Clinton began the part of my life you could call my life on the road.

One Sunday I was returning from brunch, when I saw her, there, watching the van fill up beneath the porte-cochère. She must have recognized me from the yoga studio. “Fellow American!” she called. “I’m running for president, and I’m hitting the road to earn your vote! Won’t you join me?” Thus came spring, April in Chappaqua, and I left everything and followed her.

I had heard of Hillary Clinton, here and there. Irritable, they said. Calculating. Inauthentic. But the 16 hours we spent driving from New York to Iowa, where she had plans to meet with ordinary Americans — it felt so real. Just Hillary, and Hillary’s aide, Huma Abedin; and Hillary’s spokesperson, Nick Merrill; and several Secret Service agents; and a couple dozen reporters. Kin to the free-spirited wind, Hillary. “We just decided several months ago to plan this spontaneous road trip,” she said, pulling a tin of caviar from the cooler beside her bucket seat.

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It was about “America,” Hillary liked to say. “America.” It was a word she liked to use. She would mutter it during power naps, on those long dreary stretches of flat road, and she would tack it on at the end of sentences: “If there is a rest stop in the next couple of miles, could you pull over, for America?” I am not sure quite what she meant by that, but for the next 16 hours that was all I heard — “America,” a word that became lovely and inclusive on her lips.

She could be uproariously funny. Over the sound of I Am . . . Sasha Fierce playing on loop, she yelled me the funniest stories about how she got around the law in every federal department that had an inconvenient record-retention requirements, saying over and over again, “Them goddam feds can’t put no flies on my ass!” She laughed. She had such a gentle laugh.

In the early evening of that first day our fuel ran low, and we were forced into a gas station. It was there that we encountered our first group of ordinary Americans. Bill was an electrician, his wife Monica a schoolteacher, their daughter Azalea a nostril-mining third grader. Hillary shook their hands, then posed: ordinary Americans going about their ordinary American lives.

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“We’re not doing this for the publicity,” Huma said to me, as she snapped a photo, one with an iPhone, one with a Blackberry. “This is just about Hillary meeting ordinary Americans. It’s not about promotion.” She handed the phones to Nick. He uploaded the picture to Instagram and to Facebook, and tweeted it. “We like to keep these things among only our closest friends,” he explained.

Returning to the van, something strange happened: “We didn’t plan that,” said Hillary, climbing in and shutting the door. Her hands were in her lap; she was shaking. “We didn’t plan that!” She removed a heel and threw it against the window. She turned on Huma: “How am I supposed to look spontaneous when I don’t have time to prepare?!” I lowered my eyes, but secretly, I was proud: This woman cared — so much.

Through Pennsylvania we passed, and Ohio, to which Hillary vowed she would soon return. Passing south of Chicago she smoked a cigarette in honor of Saul. But on we rushed, Iowa-bound. I do not think Hillary slept. I suppose someday the rest of us will not need to either. But for the moment, we remain ordinary Americans.

#related#Far too much transpired in those hours than could be related in many volumes. It seemed only a short time before we stopped just short of the Iowa border. We climbed out of the van, and looked across the Mississippi into that corn-fed land. She turned to me. “Where I am going,” she said, “you cannot follow.” What? Protest rose in me. “But,” she said, “you can still support me. I encourage you to go to www.hillaryclinton.com, and make a donation of $5, $10, $25, or $100.” I nodded, tears in my eyes. Then, saying, “Thank you for your support, fellow American,” she shook my hand. And, for just a moment, I reached the point of ecstasy that I always wanted to reach, which was the complete step across chronological time into timeless shadows, and wonderment in the bleakness of the mortal realm, and the sensation of death kicking at my heels to move on, with a phantom dogging its own heels, and myself hurrying to a plank where all the angels dove off and flew into the holy void of uncreated emptiness, the potent and inconceivable radiancies shining in bright Mind Essence, innumerable lotus-lands falling open in the magic mothswarm of heaven. I could hear an indescribable seething roar which wasn’t in my ear but everywhere and had nothing to do with sounds. I thought I was going to die the very next moment.

But I didn’t die. I turned away, and began to walk east, the way I had come, telling everyone I met what I had seen. And when I could walk no longer, I called an Uber, and rode as the sun set and the moon rose outside the window. And in my mind’s eye I saw Hillary, kale shake in hand, looking into the same sky, imagining the future and the stars exploding, like Republicans’ heads.

— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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