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Michael G. Maudlin

Mrs Clinton, I Presume?

I had the opportunity to meet Hillary Rodham Clinton recently. (Actually, my wife was kind enough to introduce me after their conversation finished.) And I was surprised by what I was surprised by. It hit me with the force of lightning-bolt revelation that she was a real person.

Duh, you say? Well, yes, I already knew that—theoretically. Yet when I shook the hand of the First Lady, I could not get over the fact that normal conversation was possible (even easy, thanks to her graciousness), that she might dislike some aspects of being First Lady (like shaking hands with strangers), that she might have mixed reactions to all the news stories speculating on the private life of her husband, that she might not experience as humorous P. J. O'Rourke's up-to-that-point-I-thought-hilarious review of her book, which he titled "It Takes a Village Idiot."

I had abstracted Mrs. Clinton, I realized. She had lost flesh, become a digitized construct in the ongoing game in my head called How the World Works. There, soulless characters compete for dominance and prominence. The various brands of media score the players. What are her popularity ratings? Where is he in the rankings of Forbes's wealthiest, People's most interesting or sexiest, or Time's most powerful? In this Ayn Rand universe, the game is all important, who is ascending or descending, who is scoring points or taking hits. The goal is entertainment, to please the arena fans.

I'm all too aware of this temptation to abstraction. A lifetime spent in the suburban landscape of the Midwest taught me the technique. I was raised with the omnipresent tube, which mediated and abstracted the world. Everything important happened "out there"; New York, Washington, and Los Angeles seemed like huge properties on the cosmic Monopoly board. When race riots broke out in Detroit, the news program mentioned Woodward Avenue, a street I lived a few blocks from. Still, the anchor might as well have said Papua New Guinea. The race riots were ...

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