Hillary Clinton, Robot Politics, and Burrito Media

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

The media apparently didn’t listen when I told them to stop participating in Hillary Clinton’s campaign rollout and start covering it. (Full disclosure: I didn’t really expect them to.)

Her visit to a Chipotle restaurant ended up producing New York Times coverage of how her burrito order was “above average” – for crying out loud, even her puff piece coverage is tinged with arrogant elitism! – and a Politico profile of the people who made the burrito that must be several thousand words long. This is the sort of coverage I would expect for Elliot and his family after E.T. climbed into his flying saucer and returned to the stars.

Somehow it’s been left exclusively to foreign media to explain that most of the “average, everyday folks” allegedly touched by Clinton’s magical presence during these close encounters are actually Democrat Party activists, Obama campaign interns, Joe Biden’s former chaffeur, and so forth. The real story is that Hillary Clinton can’t have a genuine, spontaneous encounter with regular people, not even after spending years psyching herself up to deal with people who aren’t her operatives, media sycophants, Hollywood celebrities, or rich donors who may or may not be offering her American dollars.

The media knows very well, and has known since Minute One, that Hillary’s campaign rollout is a total fake, and a complete disaster, just like all her previous rollouts were. America was supposed to be eating from the palm of her hand after her book tour last year, but it turned out they’re not even willing to buy her book off the remainder tables.

The shadow of Joe the Plumber hangs long over everything Clinton does. It was a hair-raising near-catastrophe for Obama when he strolled up to a regular dude in 2008 and wound up pontificating about Marxist theory. If the media, and some very helpful local government employees, hadn’t sprung into action and made the story all about Joe the Plumber instead of Barack The Completely Unvetted Presidential Candidate, who knows what might have happened? Nobody on Team Clinton has any illusions about her ability to survive a random encounter with someone who isn’t a fully invested, properly programmed Democrat Party activist.

Now, let’s be honest: every candidate, from every point on the political compass, wants to generate some populist, sympathetic energy. Every campaign team knows all about Mitt Romney trouncing Barack Obama in practically every category of exit polling except the “cares about people like me” stuff, where Romney got nuked. Every Republican campaign will get their guy or gal photographed in relaxed settings with happy Regular Folks. This isn’t new to 2016, either.

The difference is the media’s attitude.

As I said yesterday, they have a generally appropriate level of skepticism toward Republicans, an adversarial stance that sometimes goes overboard with excessive bile, false stories, and “narratives” they can’t snap out of. The problem is that they’re not adversarial toward Democrats, and it shapes coverage in countless ways. They extend Democrats benefits of the doubt and presumptions of good intention that turn even technically negative coverage into vanilla pudding. They’re generally on board with the storyline that Hillary Clinton is a concerned mom, feminist hero, and compassionate genius who wanted to kick her campaign off by “listening” to ordinary Americans. It’s taken a lot of embarrassing contrary coverage from foreign correspondents and American alternative media to make the mainstream types begin admitting the Clinton blastoff is not only flawed in execution, but fundamentally dishonest in concept.

The Burrito Media soft-focus infects policy discussions, too. Republican candidates get hit from every direction, every time they’re confronted by someone with a microphone. To grab a couple of current examples, Marco Rubio was just pushed into declaring that he’d be willing to attend a same-sex wedding, and Ted Cruz adroitly handled a loaded question about whether he feels comfortable opposing a mythical “90 percent consensus” of popular opinion on gun control. (Readers who remember the post-Sandy Hook gun control frenzy may recall Democrats got creamed, both politically and in the court of popular opinion, but the media still finds ways to make it sound like Republicans were somehow out-of-touch.)

Does anyone think Hillary will be forced to say she’d be willing to eat at a pizzeria owned by sincere Christians, or why she supports Democrat abortion radicalism that couldn’t be more out-of-touch with majority opinion? Think they’ll ask if she supports the Obama White House paying female employees considerably less than men? Don’t hold your breath waiting for them to ask why a self-declared Champion of the Little Guy with a net worth measured in the hundreds of millions – very little of it earned through constructive private-sector economic activity – can’t be bothered to stuff a few bucks into the tip jar at Chipotles. Don’t expect them to look for any deeper meaning in her falsely describing her grandparents as “immigrants,” even when it’s hardly the first time she’s invented convenient biographical details.

The media won’t get that adversarial with her. They won’t push “wedge issues” that hurt her, fracture her strengths, or goad her into making intellectually consistent statements about extreme cases. They’ll actively avoid asking her questions that would play into Republican campaign narratives. They won’t question her motives or sincerity, even if they can bring themselves to discuss topics they know she would rather avoid.

And these services will be provided on behalf of someone the media doesn’t even personally love, the way they love Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. It’s all so robotic. Everything about Hillary is robotic, right down to the number-crunching political analysts who say she could be the worst candidate in memory and still be favored to win, because The System tends to install Democrats in the White House now, in part because their robotic voting blocs want The System to keep delivering the goods. Only Republicans have to worry about their dispirited base not showing up on Election Day, and the press will make certain the ears of those voters are ringing with Republican Civil War stories right up to November 2016.

The 2016 political narrative says Clinton can count on inertia to sweep her into office. The Burrito Media seems mildly curious about just how little effort she has to put into closing the deal. They’re not likely to mount a real challenge to her coronation, the way they begin every encounter with Republicans by assuming they have no real business running for President. The media wants to write an epic story about royalty and a historic First Woman President shattering the glass ceiling, but it has to involve people they feel good about – they don’t want the royal family to be named “Bush,” or the historic woman to be Carly Fiorina.

They don’t have to see Hillary as a fantastic candidate in order to abandon their duty of opposing her, the way they’re supposed to oppose everyone who tries for high office, and America is supposed to be better-governed for it. They’re on autopilot, running tired ideological programs written decades ago. That may be good enough to bring Hillary in for a slow, safe landing.