By Will Durst
Listen, my friends, and you will hear a tale of a fateful night. It’s a tale no other dare speak of. Not a matter of political correctness. It is shame. Of which I have little. If any. OK, none. So here goes. What follows is the real and true story of how Hillary Clinton overcame a double-digit same-day deficit and won the New Hampshire primary. A tale of a race and of race.
We all know what happened, but like the knickers of a Guatemalan nanny bent over a laundry basket in the room just off the kitchen, we pretend not to notice. Tom Brokaw knows. John King knows. OK, maybe Laura Ingraham doesn’t know, but how is that different? Hillary knows. Barack not only knows, he feels it in his bones like a creeping worm of osteoporosis every day of his life but he’ll never say a word.
It was not a polling glitch. It was not co-opting the mantra of “change.” It was not Hillary’s vulnerability in Saturday’s debate or her moist eyes in that Portsmouth coffee shop. It was not Bill turning into a 60-foot George Bailey Transformer rampaging through Bedford Falls. It was a little bit of the teeniest kind of invisible fear. A form of prejudice detritus known as “the Bradley Effect.”
In 1982, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, an African-American, was 10 points ahead in the polls the day before his California gubernatorial election against George Deukmejian. Ten points ahead. Day before the election. He lost. Sound familiar? Ding. Ding. Ding. Give that man a kewpie doll.
To add insult to injury, Bradley led in the exit polls. Which means people not only lied about how they were going to vote, they lied about how they did vote. Proof positive that something crazy happens inside the heads of white people when they get behind that polling curtain. But after two terms of George Bush, that ain’t new news.
Why didn’t the “Bradley Effect” rear its ugly head in Iowa? Simple. We’re not talking about racism, we’re talking about nervousness. A fear that attacks your marrow in the dark. In Iowa, everyone watches you vote. No curtain to hide behind in a caucus. You bunch in a corner in full sight of all your neighbors under a bright fluorescent light. In New Hampshire, it’s just you and your demons. Your inner New England demons. And hope tends to dissipate in those lonely enclosures. No matter how warm the January night, it gets dark at 5 up there. North woods dark, where shadows trump hope.
The difference was women over 40. Which, forgive me, in both New Hampshire and Iowa means white women. In the Hawkeye State, they went with the black guy in the wide open. In the Granite State, behind the curtain, they chose the white woman. I know. I know. I know. Sacrilege! Implying discrimination exists in America today. Blaspheme! Accusing Democrats of possible prejudice. Heresy! But it’s not bigotry so much as it is dread. Obloquy! “What?” Never mind. In the last six years, we’ve been taught to fear. Bang! Salivate.
One can only hope the Clinton campaign staffers understand this and don’t convince themselves it was their wacky emotional leakage weekend strategy that turned the tide, because that would mean 10 months of Bill shrieking and Hillary keening, and nobody wants that. The only thing worse would be to go on pretending this Effect does not exist, because future opponents are already drawing up plans to ramp it up.
Will Durst is a comic, an actor and a writer.