Somebody out there might have given her a nickname, but I’ve never heard it. This can’t be because you need to to be well-liked to earn a pop culture handle – Jared and Ivanka became “Jarvanka” in pretty short order, and who likes them? It can’t be that her name doesn’t cry out to be abbreviated and hyphenated, either. With all those syllables, it’s a natural. Look, if Jennifer Lawrence can be “J-Law”, why couldn’t Sarah Huckabee Sanders be “Shucks”, or “Shuckabers”, or “Say-Huck”, or something like that? Maybe somebody out there who has more Twitter followers than the five I’ve got could Tweet that out, or come up with one of your own, see if it has legs.*
We don’t see her so much any more, have you noticed? Not like we used to. Remember back when Sean Spicer went the way of The Mooch? Ms. Sanders really stormed out of the gate, then, didn’t she? She was up there almost every day, sparring with the reporters, and firing nasty little barbs with zealous intensity. Whereas the gaffe-prone Spicey had been a terribly incompetent liar, and often seemed a little embarrassed, a little sheepish, Sarah gripped the podium with white knuckles and made us appreciate the difference between a mere minor-leaguer and somebody with the stuff to make it to The Show. You weren’t going to catch her hiding in the hedges, trying to avoid a confrontation. You wanted a piece of her, pal, you were gonna get it. She stood tall, and gazed down at the assembled press corps like she was a lion, and they were a pack of jabbering hyena.
By Christ she could lie! We’d all thought Kellyanne Conway was bucking for the championship, but even she didn’t project certitude like Sarah. Conway was undoubtedly a pro, she jabbered, pivoted, threw in the requisite what-aboutisms, non-sequiturs, talking points, and such, but watch closely when here, early on, she realizes she’s actually about to utter the term “alternative facts” for the first time:
The crucial moment occurs at precisely the 2:00 mark. See it? She gulps for a second, like she’s trying to swallow a Number 2 lug nut. Then there’s a reflexive little half-smile, just for another second, before she suppresses it and gamely forges ahead. You can just hear her inner monologue: OK kid, here it comes, you know you gotta say it – spit it out – oh, shit, I said it. Huckabee Sanders never flinches like that. She expertly arches a scornful eyebrow and fires out the party line, laced with just the most carefully calibrated measure of scathing contempt. Don’t get me wrong, Kellyanne is a superlative disseminator of falsehood, but if you compare her to Sarah, it’s like she’s Mariah Carey, and Sarah is Beyoncé.
There’s no point, I suppose, in reiterating all the outrageous lies that Say-Huck has professed with utter conviction from her podium in the press briefing room. She simply reiterates with stalwart, resolute energy whatever Trump falsehood is the fib du jour. If you want to catalogue her lies, you can simply go through the record and take down pretty much everything significant Trump has said, or Tweeted, and mentally ascribe her voice to it. Some of her performances were almost funny, the way she’d insist up was down and wet was dry, but she put it out there with heart, with conviction. There was never an Orwellian propaganda ministry that did it better in the service of any totalitarian regime you can name. Truly. In its own way, her performance has been a sort of masterpiece. The very zenith of its kind.
Yet eventually, it seems, it all started to wear her down. The daily press briefing turned into the weekly, and then the fortnightly, then finally the monthly, briefing. The whole thing with CNN’s Jim Acosta, whom Sarah tried to malign with a doctored video from the Alex Jones InfoWars website, perhaps the most dubious provenance of anything ever offered up with a straight face as evidence (in a democracy anyway), may have been a breaking point. Lately, she projects a sort of resignation, fatalism even, and her eyes look a little dead. She’s stopped telling herself that somebody out there might still fall for it. Nobody will, not now. Not even the plants from Breitbart and The Daily Stormer. She also clearly knows, moreover, that they shouldn’t.
The long campaign of unrelenting deceit has simply used her up, I think. It’s just so wearying being the Designated Purveyor of State Mendacity. She’s turned into a better groomed version of Baghdad Bob, the press attaché for Saddam’s Hussein, who repeatedly showed up at press conferences to deny that his country was being overrun by American forces, even as the characteristic whine of M-1 turbine engines could be heard in the not-so-distant background. Listen, life as a laughing stock isn’t easy. It hurts. No matter how staunch your allegiance to the Party and all that it stands for, you can start to feel your soul evaporating out there on camera, all the lights shining on you alone.
There have only been four press conferences since the start of September. That’s both bad and good, I think. Soon after this all began, I was of two minds whether journalists should even be showing up for these bogus bullshit sessions anymore, though one wonders what the long term implications of the end of real press briefings will be. You could argue it’s no great loss, and sure, the daily briefing always involved a bit of parry and thrust between the press and government, a little nudge-nudge, wink-wink. Press Secretaries always had to do a little dance with the journalists, add a bit of spin, play a little hide-the-ball, and so on. Still, the best of them, maybe all of them actually, bridled at going out there and spewing outright lies that they knew to be implausible, extravagant, and transparently unbelievable. It ran counter to their role, and indeed their duty to the Republic. Anyway, there are some things a person’s dignity will not abide.
No longer. If the Huckabee Sanders approach is now the new normal, then good riddance to the whole sorry spectacle.
Ms. Sanders gave an interview recently in which she expressed her desire to be remembered as “transparent and honest”. To this, Canadian singer-songwriter Jann Arden, who’s smart as a whip and funny enough to do stand-up, Tweeted “I’d like to be remembered as tall and thin”. I was also reminded of a great episode of The Sopranos, when mob patriarch Uncle Junior is in the box with Federal agents, and they start in on their standard sweat-the-bastard routine. “We want you to talk” yells the interrogator. “I want to fuck Angie Dickinson,” responds Uncle Junior. “Let’s see who gets his wish first”.
I leave you with a YouTube clip, to remind you that things can be, and actually have been, much different. Attached is the last briefing given by Obama’s Press Secretary, the guy actually named Josh Earnest, who became the most respected person ever to hold that position. It’s a long clip, 27 minutes, but you can advance to the four minute mark when it really starts, and I swear it’s worth your time.
In giving thanks to everybody who helped him in the job, the way Oscar winners do, but with more sincerity, Josh takes care to lavish eloquent praise on the journalists in the room. He equates them with members of the civil service, who toil just as they do to keep civil society functioning as it should, and he makes it clear that the press corps is a vital ally in the ongoing effort to tend to the health of democracy. Allies. Not adversaries. He thanks them for their service in support of every value he holds dear. This is no mere recitation of platitudes. He means it, from the bottom of his heart, and they know he does. They laugh, and applaud, and when the President himself comes in unexpectedly to deliver his own praise for Josh, a thrilled little cheer is heard. After, when Obama leaves, the journalists are on their feet. It’s both natural and imperative. You stand for such a President. When he leaves a room, you stand. Watching that last press conference, and Obama’s departure, I was reminded of a scene from To Kill a Mockingbird.
Look at what was, and must still be, possible.
The moment was obviously less dramatic than this, but everybody knew it was a time of profound change, and loss, and the underlying emotion was the same:
*See below. My brother Mark suggests “the Huckster” which is just perfect.