On Thursday, I took about 300 aerial photographs and re-watched All the Way, the HBO film about LBJ, on the plane. I turned up the volume just as LBJ is entering the Capitol to make his first public remarks as president before Congress. Still absorbing the fact of Kennedy’s assassination and his own sudden elevation to the presidency, Johnson, played by Bryan Cranston, is the cynosure of all eyes, cameras and former colleagues turning toward him in a swirl of suspenseful curiosity. Meanwhile, the memory of a recurrent nightmare from childhood spools through Johnson’s mind. In it, he hides in terror under the floorboards of a house during a Comanche raid. Cowering in the dark, yet certain of his eventual discovery and death at the hands of an unseen enemy, he intones with grim conviction, “It’s only a matter of time before they haul me up into the light where their knives gleam.”
On Sunday, I caught the nightly news, which showed footage of an obviously unwell Hillary Clinton leaving a 9/11 ceremony and collapsing while trying to get into a car. It came out that she had been being treated for pneumonia and dehydration. Shortly after her collapse, Clinton re-appeared, waving at the crowd and asserting that she was just fine. Having known since Friday that she had pneumonia, Clinton later justified glossing over it, saying “I just didn’t think it was going to be that big a deal.”
Part of me wants to believe that the electorate is capable of understanding what’s entailed in recovering from this common but dangerous ailment. Hillary must rest, independent of a time-table; doing so needn’t have any ill effect on the prospect of her winning. Let her surrogates fill the gap. Let Hillary herself stay at home and wage a modern-day front-porch campaign. Behaving commonsensically could be a path to victory.
But what if Johnson’s murderous vision of American politics is more realistic? Will Hillary’s untimely illness destroy her chances? As All The Way ends, Johnson’s dark vision of politics dogs him, even as the 1964 election validates his claim to the presidency. As the adulation of devoted friends and supporters washes over him at his victory party, still that inner voice murmurs its grim prophesy:
But the sun will come up, and the knives will come out. And all these smiling faces will be watching me, waiting for that one first moment of weakness. And then they will gut me like a deer.