When the American writer Max Eastman asked James Joyce why Finnegans Wake was so hard to read, Joyce replied that he desired to keep critics "busy for 300 years." This may sound pompous, but even those of us who have never read Finnegans Wake can understand why someone might be willing to spend decades studying Joyce.
Lanny Davis, the former Clinton hack who moonlights as a shill for dictators, is not a Joyce scholar, at least as far as I know. But Davis is a man who likes to immerse himself in a text, and search for meaning from great works of literature. With Davis, however, the subject is not a Flaubert or Proust or Joyce novel. No, Davis prefers a Hillary Clinton speech. You see, while the rest of us look at Hillary Clinton and see a talented politician, Davis sees a far-sighted genius whose every word must be analyzed with real precision.
Belatedly, here is the Davis piece, which is modestly titled, 'Hillary Clinton's Interconnected Ideas: Part I." Davis had already put me in mind of E.M. Forster's famous injunction to "only connect," which was surely his intent. Anyway, a taste of his piece:
It shouldn't surprise anyone who has known Hillary Clinton for a while and followed her career in public service to know that she is driven by ideas to bring change that improves people's lives and, just as important, that she sees an interconnected big picture among her ideas to solve major problems when many others see disconnected dots.
This is masterful suck-upery, but it gets better:
Hillary Clinton...set out three apparently distinct issues of importance to all Americans: 1) early childhood development, 2) opportunities for women and girls, and 3) economic development that creates jobs. But Mrs. Clinton saw them as "interdependent and interconnected"—just as she described the issues around the globe during her travels to more than 100 countries in her four years as one of the nation's most effective Secretaries of State. She coined the phrase "smart power," and not surprisingly, applied the same ability to make connections and common approaches to "all the problems that we face"...
Well okay, she didn't actually coin the phrase "smart power," but what about her ability to make a connection between "opportunities for women" and "economic development?" You might snidely say, well, duh, this is obvious, why should Clinton be seen as a genius for drawing the connection? I would merely respond that there must be several Saudi Arabian princes who disagree, and probably the Taliban, too. So as you can see, this is a controversial idea.
My favorite moment of Davis's column was the following:
And also typical for Hillary Clinton, she is not content to state broad conclusions. She immediately heads for the facts to support her argument—as long as I've known her, facts first, conclusions second, not the other way around, as too many politicians are prone to do.
Those who find Joyce hard to understand should spend some time on the second sentence here. No matter: The real question is one of motive. Why does Davis do this? A cynic would say that he is cannily trying to remain in the Clintons' good graces, but this overlooks what Jeeves refers to as "the psychology of the individual." I think Davis does it with pleasure. It's true that Hillary Clinton is not a dictator, but in today's world, he'll take what he can get.
Isaac Chotiner is a senior editor at The New Republic. Follow him @IChotiner.