No matter who you support in this 2016 election, there’s one thing everyone can agree on: Hillary Clinton is not very authentic. Her every move is focus-group-tested and she’ll say just about anything to get the power she’s always craved. We all know it.
Back in the 1990’s while I was in high school and college, I hardly followed politics at all. I was a Republican, of course. Everyone I knew was a Republican. I remember in 1992, when Bill Clinton won the first time, my changing voice cracking as I told my high school friends the results of the electoral college. One of my friends listened to Rush Limbaugh, and I remember how he would refer to Clinton as Slick Willy. Although I didn’t really follow the issues, I knew that Clinton was doing things I disagreed with and that the Democrats were despicable. My first vote for president was for a doomed Bob Dole in 1996 when I sent in my absentee ballot back home from my dorm room. Looking down the ticket, I didn’t know about any of the other candidates on the ballot, so I voted for all the Republicans.
As little as I knew of politics at the time, I did know this: I didn’t trust those Clintons, either of them.
So a few years later when Hillary decided to run for the open Senate seat in New York for the 2000 election, I agreed with those who thought it was rank opportunism. She and Bill bought a house in Chappaqua, and she engaged on her famous listening tour. But one detail of her pandering stood out to me: in June 1999, a month before she formally announced her candidacy, she put on a Yankees cap.
The problem with putting on a Yankees cap is that everyone knew that she, a native of Illinois, was a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan. Switching allegiance for the sole purpose of trying to win an election was clear evidence she was a faker. Rooting for a sports team, especially the local team from childhood, is a part one’s identity. To suddenly cheer for another team showed how inauthentic she really was. Oh sure, she tried to tell Katie Couric in an interview that she could be both: “I am a Cubs fan,” Clinton said. “But I needed an American League team…so as a young girl, I became very interested and enamored of the Yankees.” The front page of the Style section of the Washington Post noted that “a sleepy-eyed nation collectively hurled,” at the obvious lie. No one bought it. And neither did I.
I knew Hillary Clinton was a fraud. She didn’t have any core beliefs. She would say whatever it took to win the election in New York. Her newfound love of the Yankees was one more piece of evidence that confirmed my thinking.
But what if I was wrong? I didn’t consider the possibility at the time. I didn’t consider it eight years later during the 2008 Democratic primary when I supported Barack Obama. Even though I had become a Democrat in the intervening years, I still didn’t trust Clinton. (The story of my switch from Republican to Democrat will have to wait for another day.)
I found out recently that I have been wrong all these years. Hillary Clinton genuinely did like the Cubs and the Yankees growing up. Clinton’s love for baseball and her lifelong Yankee fandom were documented in two Washington Post articles, in the same Style section, years before she even thought of running for the New York Senate seat, left open by a retiring Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
The first article, published right before she became First Lady in January of 1993, showed how she practiced with her dad and learned to hit a curveball as well as this key detail from a childhood friend: “‘We used to sit on the front porch and solve the world’s problems,’ said Rick Ricketts, her neighbor and friend since they were 8. ‘She also knew all the players and stats, batting averages—Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle—everything about baseball.’” Maris and Mantle, known as the M&M boys, were Hall of Famers who played for the Yankees during the years of Clinton’s childhood. In the ’61 season, when Clinton would have been 13, they both chased the single season home run record held by Babe Ruth with Maris eventually breaking the record on the last day of the season.
The second article was published the following year when the Ken Burns documentary about baseball came out. Burns admired Clinton’s swing of the bat when he asked,
“‘That was a great swing,’ Burns told her. ‘Did you get some batting practice before the screening, just to warm up?’ Mrs. Clinton, who as a kid was a ‘big-time’ fan of the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees and ‘understudied’ Ernie Banks and Mickey Mantle, smiled.”
Banks played for the Cubs, and Mantle, of course, played for the Yankees. Both started their major league careers for their respective teams in the early 50s, when Clinton was a young child.
So all this time Hillary Clinton had been telling the truth about the Cubs and Yankees. The issue could have been easily cleared up in 1999, but it wasn’t. Instead, a narrative about her cravenness took hold and persisted in my mind until a few months ago. I’m sure I’m not alone.
This whole incident is a perfect example of my own confirmation bias. One psychologist defines it like this: “Confirmation bias, as the term is typically used in the psychological literature, connotes the seeking or interpreting of evidence in ways that are partial to existing beliefs, expectations, or a hypothesis in hand.” I already knew Hillary Clinton was untrustworthy, so when this piece of evidence about her posing as a Yankees fan in 1999 came to light, it confirmed what I already knew.
Even if it had been true, claiming to like the local sports team is obviously a venial sin. But in my mind it represented a core truth about her. My entire conception of her was informed by this anecdote; it stood for something much larger. Believing such a falsehood tainted how I perceived Clinton for years. It was impossible not to see her as a calculating panderer who would do anything to get elected.
During the primaries of the 2016 presidential campaign, I tried to take an open-minded look at all of the candidates, including Hillary Clinton. But it was still hard to trust her. As I learned more about her, my perspective on her slowly shifted, until I now find myself nearly 180 degrees from my college self. My former self would have been shocked and incredulous to learn that factcheckers rated her one of the most truthful candidates.
So if I could be wrong for so many years on such a little matter that affected how I saw a prominent politician, what else could I be wrong about?
In the end, putting on a Yankees cap was a problem for Clinton, but not only because it falsely confirmed the narrative that she was a fraud. It was a problem because the Yankees aren’t the only baseball team in New York. Fans of the Mets had reason to be mad at her.
(I learned the truth about Clinton and the Yankees from Kevin Drum and Bob Somerby.)