The tipping point
National Public Radio focuses on a character moment in a Presidential campaign. The issue is whether Hillary Clinton did or did not leave a tip for the waitress after eating a meal at a restaurant. The NPR account goes:
I followed Clinton during a recent bus tour across Iowa, when she and her entourage pulled into a Maid-Rite, a greasy spoon famous for its loose-meat sandwich. Clinton settled into a red stool at the counter, ate a sandwich, chatted with her waitress and then was on her way.
The scene gave Clinton perfect fodder for her next few stump speeches. It turns out her waitress was a single, working mom — just the kind of voter Democrats are courting aggressively this year....
If she's elected president, Clinton promised, people like her waitress will have it better. The way Clinton eased the waitress into her rhetoric is something repeated day after day, by all the campaigns. But in the process, people like the waitress don't always have their stories told. ...
"I wished I would have been asked first," the waitress, Anita Esterday, said of Clinton's decision to insert her in a speech. "I wish she would have asked if she could talk about me later. I didn't like it when someone called me up and said Hillary Clinton is talking about you. It's like, what'd I do now? What's she saying?"
When I returned to the Maid-Rite a few weeks later, Esterday said the senator had caught her off guard. But once they got talking, she was honest with Clinton about her need to work two to three jobs.
"I've been doing it all my life. Why should it change now that I'm old," Esterday said.
Esterday does not think Clinton got it. "I don't think she understood at all what I was saying," Esterday said. "I mean, nobody got left a tip that day."
Clinton may have decided not to tip. She was also never given a bill — her meal was on the house. Still, Esterday said Clinton might have left her something: "Maybe they don't carry money. I don't know."
After the "no tip" story hit the news the Clinton campaign issued a clarification, which the NPR carries.
Since this story aired, Hillary Clinton's campaign contacted NPR to say that the campaign paid Maid-Rite a bill for $157 the day of Clinton's visit and left $100 in tip money. NPR contacted Maid-Rite manager Brad Crawford, who confirmed that a bill was paid and tip money was left. Crawford, who was not in the restaurant at the time, said that he believes a campaign staffer left the money with one of his employees, but "where Hillary was sitting, there was no tip left." Neither Anita Esterday nor the manager on duty that day were available for comment as of noon Thursday.
It's my impression that Presidential candidates normally have a staff person who pays bills in the wake of the principal. The candidates themselves probably "don't carry money". The exact facts of this incident will probably be spun according to political preference. Maybe the tip was paid and someone decided to chisel Anita Esterday out of it. Or maybe the tip was left some hours after the meal. The facts are still somewhat vague. ABC blogs notes:
The NPR report claimed the meal was on the house. ... The Clinton campaign contacted ABC News to assert that they did, contrary to Esterday's claim to NPR, pay $157 for food at Maid-Rite and left a $100 tip to be split among the staff. ...
But an allegedly tip-less visit wasn't Esterday's only complaint. "As for all of this attention on me, it hasn't helped my life, its made my life worse," added the Maid-Rite waitress.
Esterday's picture with the Senator also landed in a local newspaper. Her employer at the nursing home is not a Clinton fan and, since the photo appeared, the waitress claims her shifts have been reduced; she suspects the picture in the paper was the reason.
I guess the score's paid now. But what was the fascination with the tip? It was probably because voters value information gathered about a candidate during an unguarded or candid moment more highly than at prepared appearances. Packaged information about a candidate is heavily discounted. Maybe voters scan candidates the way radar operators look at targets heavily obscured by electronic countermeasures. They look for changes in the signal when the aspect varies. And at moments when the shields are down they look the hardest.
But the shields are up now. And we are back to wondering whether they were ever down.