A tale of two beverages

Hillary Clinton hails from Wellesley College, Yale Law School and the Wal-Mart corporate board room. Her household income already this century has come to $109 million.

This is from having ghost-writers help her with books. It's also from being married to a former president who gets obscenely large payments for his own books and for delivering long, ponderous and self-congratulating speeches.

But now, all of a sudden, Clinton is the good ol' girl connecting to working folks in Pennsylvania while her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, an African-American and former community organizer, is the elitist.

Rich. Exponentially ironic.

It's also a testament to her political cynicism and her opponent's affliction with what could be called the Massachusetts Syndrome.

That's a political lead-footedness named for its most famous victims, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry, both sons of the Bay State. Obama is from Illinois, but perhaps he contracted the virus while at Harvard years ago.

Serious-minded people don't want to hear this, but American politics is about issues secondarily. It is first about an ability to relate to people. You can delve into the issues only after you've won people's regard.

In that context, here are two recent images from Indiana:

--Barack Obama, Clinton's opponent, goes into a diner. The proprietor walks up to him with a cup of coffee and offers him the extended cup. Obama says no thank you and that he'd like orange juice instead, and he turns away from the proprietor to proceed with hand-shaking among patrons.

--Hillary Clinton campaigns in a restaurant's bar. The bartender offers her a shot of Crown Royal whisky and a beer. She says sure. She throws back the shot while approving male barflies stand around her. Her intestines surely burn still.

A couple of blowhards on MSNBC have been widely attacked for making too much of Obama's orange juice gaffe. But moments such as Obama's mean as much in American politics as a substantive back-and-forth about whether health insurance ought to be mandated or merely universally available.

A good politician would know instinctively to accept the coffee and not treat the proprietor as a server. A good politician would take at least one sip and compliment the flavor before putting down the cup to proceed to hand-shaking.

Clinton knew instinctively to throw back the whisky, though she typically disdains frivolity and the heavy drink. Yes, there were those reports years ago that she and John McCain, of all people, fell into an after-dinner vodka drinking contest in Estonia. But McCain swears it never happened.

Hillary's more genuine self would have declined the booze and advised patrons not to imbibe and drive. Actually, her real self wouldn't have been there in the first place.

Here is a very old story, but I'll tell it anyway.

I'd spent a long day traveling with the Clintons during an Arkansas governor's race in 1982. By late afternoon, with the state-edition deadline nearing, I'd already filed my article. But Bill had another early evening appearance down the road, where he would repeat his demagoguery about recent utility rate increases.

So we were preparing to leave Jonesboro for Paragould. Jonesboro is in a dry county. Paragould is in the adjoining wet county.

I asked the driver to drop me off at a little place I knew at the county line, Roy's Last Chance Saloon. I said I could find my way to catch up with them for the flight back to Little Rock, because I knew some folks locally who would provide the 15-minute drive.

Hillary was outraged, and she spoke disparagingly of my character.

I submit that events have borne out that I was merely 26 years ahead of my time, or at least of her.

John Brummett is an award-winning columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock and author of "High Wire," a book about Bill Clinton's first year as president. His e-mail address is jbrummett@ arkansasnews.com.