There's Something About Hillary Clinton's 'There's Something About Mary' Reference

There's Something About Mary
In her new memoir, Hillary Clinton references the 1998 movie 'There's Something About Mary,' starring Cameron Diaz. 20th Century Fox

In her hotly anticipated new memoir, Hillary Clinton shares what she really thinks of primary rival Bernie Sanders. In fact, she compares the experience of debating him to a scene from the 1998 lowbrow comedy There's Something About Mary.

Yes, really! In particular, Clinton says that debating policy with Sanders was like the scene in which a deranged hitchhiker tells Ben Stiller about his business plan for a "seven-minute abs" exercise routine. Of course, Stiller one-ups the hitchhiker by suggesting a plan for "six-minute abs." (This scene is on YouTube.)

Here is the relevant passage, which leaked onto Twitter this week:

She's also comparing Sanders in debates to the workout idea from the serial killer from There's Something About Mary https://t.co/VDtZBPNGYy

— Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) September 5, 2017

SWEET JESUS HILLARY HAS NO MERCY! God I love this. pic.twitter.com/FZomIui7t0

— Adam #TurnGeorgiaBlue Smith (@AdamJSmithGA) September 4, 2017

There's a lot to unpack here, including the fact that (A) the movie reference is about 19 years late, making it seem as though Team Clinton's well of pop cultural knowledge is stuck in, well, the Clinton era; and (B) Clinton seems to believe that the difference between her policy proposals and Sanders' were as inconsequential as the difference between seven- and six-minute abs?

Related: A poem composed entirely from emails sent by Hillary Clinton

But never mind all that for now. What's strange is that this very dated pop culture analogy seems to be a recurring motif in commentary on the 2016 election. Clinton's team, it seems, really liked discrediting Sanders' brand of progressivism by comparing it to the Something About Mary scene. Here's a passage from Shattered, the recent Clinton campaign tell-all book:

Every time [Clinton] said she wanted to increase the federal minimum wage to $12 an hour—the main proposal from Senate Democrats—Bernie said he'd settle for no less than "fifteen bucks." When she said she wanted students to emerge from college without debt, Bernie reminded voters that his plan would let them attend for free. Hillary's advisers thought it was reminiscent of the scene from There's Something About Mary in which a crazed hitchhiker tells Ben Stiller's character that he can make a fortune by turning "eight-minute abs" into "seven-minute abs."

What does it all mean? Are Clinton's advisors secretly really obsessed with '90s Farrelly brothers comedies? What does the former secretary of state think of Dumb & Dumber?

On Twitter, writer David Grossman joked that Clinton used There's Something About Mary to justify her vote on the Iraq War. (She did not.)

little known fact: clinton originally used "there's something about mary" metaphors to explain her vote on iraq

— David Grossman (@davidgross_man) September 5, 2017

Even weirder, this same Something About Mary reference appeared in the New York Times during primary season, albeit in a different context. As Alex Shephard at The New Republic pointed out in April, the Clinton's team's analogy is startlingly similar to the lede of a 2015 Times piece by Josh Barro. In this case, Barro was referring to a tax debate between then-rivals Jeb Bush and Donald Trump:

[...] Mr. Stiller's character responds that it sounds like a great idea, unless someone comes out with Six-Minute Abs. The drifter, played by Harland Williams, gets angry. "Nobody's coming up with six! Who works out in six minutes? You won't even get your heart going!"

With my apologies in advance for comparing him to an unhinged drifter, this is roughly what happened to Jeb Bush in September.

You know how for a certain strain of millennial, everything that happens in politics is just like something that happened in Harry Potter?

Evidently, there is another generation for whom everything that happens in politics is just like something that happened in the 1998 movie where Ben Stiller gets his genitals caught in a zipper.

Let's overthink this slightly more. There's Something About Mary was released during the summer of 1998, the same summer that Bill Clinton confessed to an improper relationship with Monica Lewinsky. That summer, Maureen Dowd referenced the film and its gross-out antics in a New York Times column about the Lewinsky scandal titled "There's Something About Bill." (Dowd argued that the film had ushered us into a new era of gross-out comedy, just as Clinton and Lewinsky helped usher in "the era of gross-out politics.") The following month, Mad TV spoofed the movie in a sketch involving President Clinton and his zipper (you can figure it out).

What does this all mean? Probably nothing. Maybe the Clintons went to the movies that summer, but probably not.

But I tried to figure out whether—and when—Hillary Clinton ever saw There's Something About Mary. Somehow, I came across a big 2009 New Yorker profile of Richard Holbrooke, the diplomat who served as a lead foreign policy adviser for Clinton during her 2008 campaign. The piece mentions that Holbrooke "consumes large quantities of schlock entertainment."

His favorite movie? "Holbrooke," the New Yorker noted in parentheses, "is especially fond of There's Something About Mary." Go figure.