S1: The following program may contain explicit language.
S2: It’s Tuesday, July 14th, 20-20 from Slate, it’s the gist. I’m Mike Pesca. If you can’t end racism, you can end using words that are racist. See the Washington Redskins, but also perhaps words that might remind someone else that racism exists.
S3: So the Burlington board of Chosun Freeholders in New Jersey will henceforth be the Burlington Board of County Commissioners. The state’s governor and the Senate president and leader of the assembly. They favor the change. It’s also applauded among those who currently hold the freeholder title. The Burlington Boards, one African-American member, Felicia Hopsin, said in a news release, quote, Continuing our work to end systemic racism must be everyone’s objective. In eliminating an antiquated title from an era when slavery and racism was tolerated is one step we can take right away. Retiring this relic title from a period of slavery is the right thing to do. Oh, I did not know that freeholder was a reference to slavery and I did not know that because it is not. Here is the description of what a freeholder is. I took this from the Mercer County, New Jersey board of freeholders. The title Freeholder is derived from an old English term used to refer to a person who owned an estate of land free of debt. The title was adopted in New Jersey during the colonial period, when only those who owned real estate free of debt were eligible to participate in elections or hold public office. But let’s also note that New Jersey’s governor, Phil Murphy, along with other high state officials, put out a press release saying it’s past time for New Jersey to phase out the term freeholder from our public discourse, a term coined when only white male land owners could hold public office. Well, yes, that’s true. But you know, what else falls under the category of this is a term for an office holder that goes back to a time when only white male landowners could hold office titles like President, Senator, Congressman and governor. Governor Murphy. Also Murphy. Probably. Hey, look, if you want to end the word, because some modern people might associated with an era of different values, worse values than your own. Sure. Go ahead. Plus, I bet most freeholders, the actual freeholders or who will be the council members? They aren’t actually free of debt. You know what? With revolving credit and teaser rate papers and, you know, mortgages. So it’s probably inaccurate to call them freeholders. But while we’re at it, maybe we can change the title of comptroller because who among us really is in control? Also, people see the P in there and they think it’s the comp troller. It’s not. But it is true that fewer of us are really in control, let alone control. Also to be chopped. How about selectmen? Some places have selectmen kind of elitist, an alderman. Do you know the derivation of alderman is old English Outdoor Man originally in the general sense, a man of high mark from outdoor chief or patriarch plus man. So man, man and wait. Did you also know that in Chicago the older men are elected from wards? And what’s a ward? A minor who has been legally placed under the care of a guardian. So it’s a patriarch man who also controls a child. So it’s not just patriarchal or patriarchy ish. It is patriarch to the power of patriarch. It has got to go now to freeholders of Burlington and elsewhere in New Jersey are becoming the council members, which, you know, is really bland instead of freeholders. They could have gone with the Burlington Freeloaders or the Burlington Cup holders or the Burlington beer holders, as in the Euston Association of Real Realtors will no longer use the term master to describe primary bedroom. And then the Burlington beholders could say, hey, you think that’s good change? Hold my beer. You know, we do have a lot of fun with these things, don’t we? But what I sincerely do think is that if the word freeholder really does cause offence or discomfort upon hearing it, if it sincerely does and everyone on the board wants to change it at no expense, which is what they say, it won’t cost anything, then go ahead. Why not? Because we should all acknowledge that change is always hard. But let’s not forget, it’s often also meaningless on the show today, Joe Biden or the lack of Biden in the spiel, but noticeably not in the spiel we break. Today is the day we break the Biden drought. But first, Curtis Sittenfeld is not only a great author. She’s an author with a bit of a niche at times. She has written now two novels from the perspective imagined perspective of a famous American political spouse. American wife was about Laura Bush. Her new book, Rodham, is about Dennis Rodman. Now it’s about Hillary Rodham Clinton only in this.
S2: Telling she never becomes Clinton, sorry, Chelsea, your canceled Curtis Sittenfeld. Up next.
S4: Rodham is the new book by Curtis Sittenfeld. It is the story of Hillary Rodham, not Clinton. She does not marry Bill Clinton and I don’t I don’t want to give too much away. But he traces the life of Hillary Rodham. What happens when she comes close? I mean, it’s so close. As she describes it in the book, but then drives away from Arkansas. Her heart broken, but her life in front of her. And our life in front of us. It’s so fascinating, so joyful. So interesting. Curtis Sittenfeld is here. Congratulations. Really good. Really good book. I liked it a lot. Thank you. So I’m going to skip to page 168. And I think this is a key observation. And I don’t know if it’s the key observation, but it’s one of the reasons why I said to myself, I get it. I get the need or the drive to write this book. And this is when she has left Bill. And we’ll fill in as many of the details as you’re comfortable with. But she said, I understood suddenly that I was freed from deciding what I believed this was about a Clinton accuser. If I was no longer his girlfriend and never his wife, I was not responsible for his behavior, not even by extension. This absolution was my reward for losing him in the years to come. It sometimes seemed like the only reward.
S5: I just think that’s so key. And that idea must have been driving you as you were thinking about and executing the book.
S6: Yeah. I mean, I would say I think that there were probably like, I don’t know, five or six things driving me. And definitely without question, that was one of them. Like just the question of, you know, how much are meaning, you know, Americans understanding or impression of Hillary is actually based on Bill or based on her proximity to Bill or, you know, his behavior and and how we think she should have responded.
S5: Yeah. Or impression of her both fair and unfair. I mean, there are unfair impressions that we put upon her. But if she is there during the 60 Minutes interview excusing him for the Gennifer Flowers, unnamed but clearly described in the book, that really does mean something and is not just a reflection upon her. You can. There are legitimate judgments to be made about that.
S6: I agree. I agree. Other than some of the interesting things to me or the interesting questions are like in some cases, certainly she’s complicit in in like, you know, the kind of public merging. And I think, you know, when he was running in 91, 92, I think there was a brief time when they would say like two for the price of one. But it’s really hard to quantify. Like, how how much is is she complicit? I mean, it’s just it’s like literally impossible to say yes.
S5: And if you do, I mean and this is touched on in the book and Bill. Bill character in the Hillary Talbot character both say it. But if you are involved in a marriage, just that very fact makes you a little complicit. But then there are choices that you could make within the marriage, within the union, especially if the marriage is driving towards a bigger goal that you see as a worthy goal and getting Bill Clinton elected president and his policies enacted. It’s a morass, but it’s an interesting one and a legitimate one. And I can see it’s obviously great fodder for fiction or did some some version of fiction that you’re doing here.
S6: Well, it’s so funny because I feel like in some ways, like interesting morass is almost like a good requirement for a novel.
S5: Yeah. Yeah. So of the many things that drove you to it. Let’s go through what some of them must be. Just the character aspect of it. You see the Hillary Clinton, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the real person. We all thought about her and contemplated her and contemplated what she means as a symbol, but also what she really, quote unquote, really must be like as a person. And so it must have been interesting to get in there and try to write her as a character, as proscribed by what we know of her public persona. And then all the research that you’ve done about the private persona, how do you go about executing that?
S6: So. Well, one thing I should say is I have never met her in real life, like I’ve heard her speak publicly. But I’ve never I’ve never met her. I’ve never you know, I don’t know. Do you say shaken or shook her hand? I shouldn’t know that. I’ve never done either one. I’ve never embraced her. So I don’t think it’s not like there was a moment when I said to myself, you know, I want to write a novel. About Hillary Clinton. You know, and like, you know, these are points I want to prove, like I think I sort of backed into it a little bit more. And in some ways, it started in early 2016, well before the election, when an editor at Esquire magazine reached out and asked if I would like to write a short story from Hillary’s perspective as she was accepting the Democratic nomination for president. So it’s like it’s very specific. You know, you can say yes or you can say no. And I in the past, because I wrote a two thousand eight novel called American Wife, which is a fictional retelling of the life of Laura Bush, I would occasionally be invited to write essays about Hillary, including in 2015, 2016, and I would decline it because I didn’t feel like I had anything fresh or original to say about like who Hillary is or what Hillary needs. And when I accepted this short story assignment, which I was actually kind of on the fence about it, but then I decided, yes, I will do it. And it slipped the question. So instead of asking, what do Americans think of Hillary, it was, what does Hillary think of Americans? And I felt like I had a ton to say about that to my own surprise. So I wrote that story. It was sort of historically straight forward. It actually doesn’t ever name her, but it’s written in the first person and sort of describes, you know, like little details allude to, like her speech in Beijing or her time as secretary of state. And then after the 2016 election, I had I had sort of realized, you know, I think more than once some some realizations for me are like, you know, not not a one time thing. But I had realized that schoolchildren who knew Bill was running or Sara knew that Hillary Scheiße was was running for president in 2016 in many cases, literally didn’t know that Bill Clinton existed. And so I thought, like, would the 2016 election have turned out differently if adults didn’t see Bill and Hillary as so connected?
S5: Right. But I think you’re very fair about that in that. I mean, it’s quite clear and obvious that Hillary’s connection to Bill in real life gave her certain advantages, gave her a certain prominence, put her on the stage and maybe thrust her into the spotlight and, you know, expose that she had a lot of skills. So what you have to do, you decide how much to give away. Well, you have to do is plausibly construct how she would have essentially achieved that sans Bill.
S6: Yeah, I mean, something that’s interesting to me is if you read various books and so I was born in 1975, I wasn’t even alive then, let alone that I don’t know the Clintons personally. But it seems like in the early 70s, among people who knew them, it seems like they were perceived as equally talented and promising and ambitious. And it wasn’t like, you know, Bill is gonna be a star and and like. Isn’t it lovely that he had a companion? It was like they were two stars. And so I think I do feel, you know, like sort of feminist irritation when when people say, well, she never would have become Senate or she never would have been in a position to run for president if she weren’t married to him. Like, I feel like the people who say that tend not to be aware of the literal facts of her biography.
S5: That’s true. But I don’t know if I want to be the voice of a feminist irritant that I would just I would I would just say that the people who knew them in circles like Yale Law School, it was pretty apparent what Hillary’s skills were, which is, you know, she was as smart a person as there were. There was. And maybe that sort of person would value each of them equally because he had a certain set of skills and then she did. But for just the lay voter or getting elected, I think that Bill’s set of skills, which are this, you know, animal magnetism and working a room and almost stop pathological extroversion, those do map on to political success, especially in nineteen ninety two more than Hillary’s set of skills. Did you?
S6: I will concede that. I mean, I don’t. Again, it’s it’s so we do see them as so linked at this point that like I mean I think there are multiple ways to be a cult, a politician and multiple identities to have. And yes, he’s extremely well suited in a certain way. Yeah. I don’t know. It’s like if the question. Is is he more charismatic? Especially with a big crowd than she is? I think the answer is indisputably yes. But but if that’s not the question, then actually maybe she is an equally skilled politician in a completely different way. And and it’s you know, if she is freed of any comparison to him, she’s an incredibly hard worker. You know, she’s a very good listener. She’s always prepared. I know. I think maybe some of our assessment of how talented she is as a politician says more about gender than about like even about charisma or about. Yeah, like I mean, I think I think that sometimes we have a sort of narrow definition of like a narrow definition of who who the quintessential politician is.
S5: Right. No, I think that’s true. But I again, I’ll be the voice of the feminist era. We do and we shouldn’t. But if the baseline is not what makes a successful politician, a lawmaker, someone who could navigate political reality. But if the if what we’re doing is trying to assess who will be appealing to the American electorate to be president, I think that we’re judging it against the baseline of who has been. And that has been men and that has been men with, you know, big personalities, for better or worse.
S6: Yeah. Yeah. No. I mean, I would feel like what you’re saying is factually indisputable. And like, the whole like who would I like to have a beer with? Like, the question is not is that it appropriate? You know, way of considering it’s more like is it the way. Is it the question people ask themselves?
S5: It’s perfect. It’s so perfectly inappropriate, given that the guy who won that in the last two times a Republican was elected, literally was a non drinker. Bush and Trump. Do you have on the beer with.
S6: The funny thing is supposedly Hillary like really enjoys a cocktail.
S5: Like The New Yorker. And she. Yeah. She puts down vodka.
S6: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Amy chose it because Blake wrote a piece, I think, for The New York Times about how if if elected, Hillary, you know, would be sort of one of the boosey our presidents in in recent memory.
S5: So what are the rules that you adapt when youre not just creating a character, but embodying a character who is also a real person? Sure, a fictionalized person. But I would assume that you’d have some parameters or some, I guess, rules of what would be an ethical thing to do with this person and what would be an unethical thing, considering it as a real person.
S6: Yeah, that’s a very good question. So in some ways, like my ethical conversation with myself comes at the beginning where people have asked me a lot like, would you or will you write about Melania Trump? And the answer, would I write fiction about her from her point of view? And the answer is definitely not. And the reason is that I don’t admire or respect her. And so I wouldn’t be writing from a place of compassion. And it would be much more likely to be satire. And so this is not something someone else can can kind of prove. And it’s not really something I can prove. But I know that I admire Hillary. I don’t see her as perfect. But I do definitely admire her. And I know that I’m not trying to embarrass her by writing this book. And so, I mean, in the act of writing, especially writing first drafts, I don’t think that I put that many restrictions on myself like I did have to think, OK, am I going to use real names? And I made the decision that I would and I did. I did have a few conversations with myself and with other people, like will I include sex scenes? Like, is there a reason to. And I thought, like, yes, there is a reason to. There are kind of, I don’t know, almost like plot reasons to or it’s like it’s like why write or read a novel? If it doesn’t include the richness of the whole human experience and like the vividness and.
S4: Right. If we’re trying to understand Hillary and part of it is she’s a literal physical attraction to Bill, not to delve into the nature of that physical attraction robs the reader of some understanding of the character.
S6: Yeah, I think so, too. Like I think I feel. I could have written a novel that would like, you know, would likely result in my maybe meeting Hillary or getting a thank you note from her. And this is not novel like this is. It’s a novel first more than it’s like a love letter or like an expression of appreciation to Hillary, even though, again, I do. I do like her and I do appreciate her and respect her. But it’s like this has to be a novel first or no one’s gonna want to read it. And in a weird way, I think the reader has to sense that my loyalty is to the book and not to the real Hillary. And like, I’m trying to make the best, juiciest, most complicated book I can and not trying to like, you know, say like as a Democratic woman, I would like to, you know, like, you know, my respects.
S1: And tomorrow, Curtis Sittenfeld will be back. And just a little tease about what we’re going to talk about, why this book, Rodham, is like the reboot of The Watchmen. Yeah. Curtis was confused to tune in for that. And now the spiel this the gist is a news program. Also, personally, on a personal level, I really like politics, but I also feel the need to be relevant to you, the audience, and not to bore you, especially not to bore myself with this in mind. I will now announce that the last time I mentioned the name Joe Biden on this new show that likes to talk about politics. The last time the words Joe Biden were heard was Gasca had guests. June 30th. I’ve gone half a month. The month of July in an election year. Never even mentioning the Democratic candidate, who by every polling forecast is to be the likely winner and therefore will be the man to end the worst presidency of all time. No offense, Andrew Johnson. All due respect for your terrible presidency. All due respect and for not mentioning Joe Biden, I’ve done some soul searching and I fault myself not a whit. And this show just isn’t unusual. We just did a survey of a bunch of different cable shows, news shows, and found out, for instance, that for the three days after the July 4th weekend, Anderson Cooper did not mention Joe Biden at all. He did get to Joe Biden once yesterday in his hourlong newscast with seven or eight different segments. Once Face the Nation talked Joe Biden a bit this week, but none at all. Last week, Jake Tapper’s hourlong daily CNN show mentioned Joe Biden twice on Friday, the most recent Friday. It was in the context of Donald Trump mocking Joe Biden’s mental acuity. Wow. By the way, bragging about his own powerful cognition tests. And then before that, Jake Tapper did not mention Joe Biden for over a week of Tapper’s last six shows. The Democratic nominee for president was only mentioned in one program. I cannot fault the news, judgment. Personally speaking, I have, I believe, never failed to bring you news that is more relevant or more interesting than anything about Joe Biden today. Joe Biden unveiled an environmental plan. That’s good. Seems very good. Glad he announced the plan. It’s better than not having the plan, not announcing the plan. And it’s about a billion times better than any plan such as it is. That comes from the Trump administration. The advisory from the Biden campaign was that Joe Biden is to address the nation. Well, yes, if the nation for some reason all decided to get on one particular Zoome meeting. I guess he addressed the nation. It’s kind of crazy, but in a way, it’s actually the sanest response to that, which is truly crazy because all Donald Trump does is demand your attention and he does that successfully. And then upon getting our attention, he repels and disgusts everyone who isn’t already on board. But also a lot of the people that are a minority of Americans supported him last time. He’s turned some of them off. No. One in the process, it seems like a terrible tactic, seems like a bad tactic in service of a bad strategy to enact terrible policies, but not really even to enact the policies, just to kind of prattle on about him. I suppose someone out there might be genuinely curious about something that Joe Biden says if, say, that person worked at a think tank or were relative, a Brad Parr scale. But really, Joe Biden or you need to know about him is he is now the acceptable non lunatic you could vote for for president. The vast majority of voters don’t really need much more than that. And if you want to make the argument that, you know, it’s really unfair that Biden is escaping scrutiny. I can’t disagree. But who’s to really blame for the very notion of escaping scrutiny? The very idea that ideas or critical thought or scrutiny should be something that we cherish. It is the White House. It is Donald Trump. Because in the last few weeks, Trump vowed to leave the World Health Organization, prosecute statue topples, defund the schools. Right. But if you listen to the people, even the people who should be most threatened by these actions, activists who spend their lives, I don’t know, funding the World Health Organization or fighting for school funding. Even those activists are like, yeah, whatever. We’ve heard this one before. Yeah. Public health advocates. I live in the WHL. That’d be bad. Well, you know. Well, believe it when it happens. Part of health is mental health. And, you know, you got to do a little triage on that, which is possible. That which is probable in that which is mostly imaginary. Let’s take Trump’s threat to yank funding for schools. Here was Betsy Davos posturing for Chris Wallace on Fox yesterday.
S7: If schools aren’t going to reopen and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn’t get the funds, then give it to the families to decide to go to a school that is going to meet that promise. Well, you can’t do that. I mean, I know. I know. You listen, guys, to flounder. And I know you support vouchers. And that’s and that’s a reasonable argument. But you can’t do that unilaterally. You have to do that through Congress. Well, we’re looking at all the options.
S1: Hey, look, I’m looking at the option of playing to guard for the Milwaukee Bucks, but it ain’t going to happen. Trump also made this decree about Dacca.
S8: I’m going to be over the next few weeks signing an immigration bill that a lot of people don’t know about it. You have breaking news.
S1: Among the people who didn’t know about it are any members of Congress because no one’s considering an immigration bill in Congress. So listen to the Telemundo reporter. That’s who’s talking to try to help him out. Mr. President, I don’t think you mean a bill.
S8: I’m signing a big immigration bill. This is an executive order. I’m going to do a big executive order. I have the power to do it as president, and I’m going to make Dukkha a part of it. But we put it in and we’re probably going to then be taking it out. We’re working out the legal complexities right now. But I’m going to be signing a very major immigration bill as an executive order.
S1: It’s incomprehensible. It’s not true. It’s muddled. It really is pointless to even pay attention to. It’s lunacy. It’s not worth anyone’s time. And so we give Biden no time because to pretend there is a debate or a real choice to be had, it’s kind of a farce. Oh, yes. In the upcoming days and weeks, we will definitely cover Joe Biden more than we have. It’s hard to cover him less. We’ll cover both candidates more, will probably contrast them and we’ll want to do it. But what we’re really at right now is a time like so much else in these times, a time without precedent wrapped inside, a time without leadership. All folded inside, a time without much sense.
S2: And that’s it for Today Show that just was produced by Daniel Shrader, Margaret Kelly, the executive producer of Slate podcasts, is Alicia Montgomery. The last time any of them even said the name Wendell Willkie outloud. Guess, Just Guess was actually last weekend, Margaret went to a Wendell Willkie cosplay convention, Wendell Conn 20/20 of the 2000 attendees. Nineteen hundred and ninety nine went as Oliver Wendell Holmes. Margaret went as Wendell Willkie and Bunk from the Wire was also there as himself. The gist. I’m working on a novel called Wilcke The Life of Edith Wilcke if she never married Wendell Willkie. Wait, you’re saying Edith Wilkie’s maiden name was Wilcke? Indeed, it was Edith Wilkey. She gained an I.D. but lost an identity.
S1: Wilcke preorder from books a thousand Dobby’s per Adepero Dripper. And thanks for listening.