Hillary Clinton has endured decades of scrutiny more often embarrassing than adoring. But now Hillary love has gone viral, with the very youthful demographic that scornfully dismissed her as a presidential candidate ready to embrace her. Much like the unprecedented campaign to put geriatric comedienne Betty White on Saturday Night Live, Texts from Hillary crowned the secretary of state “head b***h in charge.” Now too cool to accept Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook friend request, or recognize Jay-Z’s phone number, she has left the decades of headbands, healthcare and “harpy” in the dust of her C-17 military plane, perhaps for good.
To top it all off, Hillary submitted her own text exchange, complete with photo proof, to the Texts From Hillary creators, crowning the meme and destroying it in one deft move. (Finally, her sense of humor and genuine confidence were displayed in a way that Hillary the candidate would have loved to achieve during her campaign.) With the fourth wall broken, the creators, who say they realize their project had peaked, will no longer update TFH, leaving it as an artifact of Hillary Clinton’s pop culture ascendancy. Spotted on Tumblrs and Facebook pages after Madame Secretary’s contribution: “OMG <3 HER,” “Hillary is amazeballs” and even “please, please let her be our next President.” With all this buzzy adoration from the 18–34 demographic, many, including Maureen Dowd and TPM’s Benjy Sarlin are now wondering if 2016 could find Hillary on a Shepard Fairey poster after all. A recent Gallup poll has her near her all-time popularity high.
Hillary winning the Internet didn’t come out of nowhere, though. First, there was the viral appreciation for her speech on gay rights as human rights and as an integral consideration in US foreign policy. Her reception at the Women in the World conference was equally warm, with a glowing introduction by Meryl Streep and a standing ovation. Then the William Jefferson Clinton library released these Instagram-tastic photos dating to the Clintons’ breezier days of youth. The pictures of midriff-baring, volleyball-toting Clintons reminds me of another Tumblr hit, Eliot Glazer’s My Parents Were Awesome, which features portraits of pre-kid boomers as the “free-wheeling, fashion-forward, super awesome” people they were before carpools and weekend Costco runs.
Speaking as a millennial, I wonder whether the belated celebration of Clinton emerges out of that same impulse that inspired Glazer and the many contributors to his site to appreciate our parents as people, rather than foils against whom we can only rebel. Be honest, folks—no one thought Hillary was cool in 2008. Reams of column inches (and eventually, for Rebecca Traister and Gail Collins, book chapters) were devoted to her lack of cool, often credited to a discomfort with a woman so earnestly ambitious, Tracy Flick–style. Amy Poehler played her alongside Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin as an exasperated, long-suffering victim of comments like “shrew” and ‘boner-shrinker,” transparently frustrated by her defeat in that year’s Democratic primary.