I was sitting in my living room, watching cable news with the volume muted, idly scrolling through tweets on my phone. My very real, non-rhetorical toddler was seated on a sumptuous Persian rug in front of the television, playing with her simple wooden blocks with the quiet concentration so characteristic of children absorbed in their own world. Suddenly, her eyes flitted to the television, losing none of their intensity as she watched Bill Clinton silently speaking.
Then she turned her head to look at me, her inquisitive eyes shining. "Father," she said, "Why is Bill Clinton trying to sabotage his wife’s campaign?"
Isn’t it incredible how children can be so perceptive? I wanted to draw out her thoughts. "Why do you say that?" I asked.
"Well," she said, turning her attention back to her blocks, "it seems to me that the former president repeatedly makes minor, unforced errors that have the potential to damage his wife’s campaign."
"Well, this week, he referred to the last eight years as an ‘awful legacy’ to be moved on from by electing Hillary, which seems like a rather odd way to refer to the Obama years, since Hillary is running as a continuation of Obama’s legacy." She balanced a block lengthwise on a vertical block, her tongue dangling out of the corner of her mouth in concentration, then pulled her chubby fingers back carefully so that she wouldn’t knock it over.
"And even if you take the most charitable reading," she continued, looking up at me again, "that he was referring to GOP obstructionism, he’s still casting Obama’s inability to overcome Republican intransigence in contrast with Hillary’s ‘change-making’ abilities."
Amazing. "Well, that makes sense, but maybe it was just a mistake," I ventured.
"Maybe, Daddy," she said, reaching for her sippy cup, "but if it’s a mistake, it’s part of a pattern." She pointed at me with the business end of the cup. "Remember a couple months ago, the comments he made in Tennessee?"
I couldn’t remember at all. Those Baby Einstein videos must really be working. Or maybe it was Caillou, that slick Québécois prig with the bald head. Why was he bald, anyway?
"I don’t blame you," she said, sighing. "February seems like an eternity ago, doesn’t it, father?" She took a sip of juice from the cup and tilted her head to the side. "The same muddled argument where he seems to, at best, damn Obama with faint praise."
Such innocent honestly. Who could doubt her?
"Then," she said thoughtfully, "there was of course the whole sordid saga of the 2008 primary, when he seemed to suggest that Obama’s victory in the South Carolina primary was because he was black, comparing his victory to Jesse Jackson’s. Then, when Obama objected, he called in to a radio station to say that Obama had ‘played the race card.’"
No arguing with that. Maybe it was Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood that was making her so smart?
"It’s all just so clumsy for someone who was such a smooth, natural politician that he earned the nickname ‘Slick Willie,’" she said, with a hint of frustration in her voice. "It can’t be just a coincidence! It can’t!"
Uh-oh. Were these warning signs of a tantrum?
They weren't. She shrugged lightly and flicked a block off of one of her towers. "Maybe it’s just old age, maybe he’s just losing his touch. Maybe it’s not some kind of weird Shakespearean psychodrama in which his resentment at Obama is mixing with some kind of submerged, subconscious fear of his wife surpassing or diminishing his legacy."
"Either way," she said, casually knocking over three of her towers with the back of her hand, "they need to get a tighter leash on the Big Dog. If they can’t, they’re gonna have to send him out to pasture where he can’t do any damage. Have him stump for her in the Dakotas, maybe."
She looked up at me again, suddenly. "Daddy, can you read me a story?"
"Of course, sweetie. Which one would you like to hear?"
"Old Yeller," she replied. She didn’t laugh.