LOCATION: Arlington, Va.  

DATE: April 3, 2015   

PHOTOGRAPHER: Andrew Harnik 

Ready for Hillary was—from January 2013 until this past April, when Hillary herself announced her readiness—a Super PAC created to support the illusion that Clinton needed urging to re-seek the presidency. With inevitability in the atmosphere, “ready for Hillary” had the sound of preparations made before an overhyped storm. Even its offices are shot here like a shelter, with low ceilings, thin walls, and a desk bare except for necessities— phone, kombucha, laptop with Illuminati sticker. Behind the lone-looking intern, Jessica Lis, there is a portrait of Hillary Clinton: not the candidate, but the icon.

A couple of months ago, film analyst Tony Zhou posted a video guide to the “quadrant system” as seen in Drive (2011). “Cover up half the frame,” Zhou tells us, and we notice one story; cover the other half, and we notice “another, complementary story.” Whether it’s divided across or down, “a shot that could have told one thing actually tells two, and instead of being bored, our eyes are constantly switching between the two halves of the screen.” The system works: here, a scene that should have been dully administrative is alive with the long, long split in Hillary’s image.

In the top left quadrant, we see Hillary as icon-by-design. The poster, made by Tony Puryear for Hillary’s 2008 campaign, looks askew and, in hindsight, like a postage stamp. It has a bright, pop “commonism,” less Chairman Mao than Warhol’s Chairman Mao, reminding us that, like Warhol and other one-named wonders, Hillary’s power lies in her ability to repeat herself. Her sun keeps setting, then rising. But the rising sun as symbol of the Japanese shogunate takes uneasy hold: the shoguns were hereditary military rulers; Hillary is the second of the Clintons and, as the first woman to almost be president, a hawk often mistaken for a battle axe. Meanwhile, in the bottom left quadrant, Lis resembles a clone of the 1970s Hillary, earnest and long-haired, with “natural” (expensive) blond highlights. If you cover the right side of the image, the scene is one of patriotic womanhood as an ascendant cult.

In the top right quadrant, another story: Hillary, as secretary of state, is boarding a flight for Libya. Absorbed by her Blackberry, she’s busy and ladylike, with a countenance not quite iron and sunglasses not quite cool—but this is as cool as Hillary gets, and we took it. Tumblr (and Twitter) turned the Reuters snap into a meme so big, so iconic by surprise, that here it’s displayed like a trophy. Cover the left side, and the image leads you to believe that we’re looking down a hallway of fame, lined with portraits of the legend who owns the place, rather than a corridor of power. The Hillary who feels like she’s a brave, rational heroine—imprisoned by populist dictates, tortured by the press, and stuck in a gender to which she claims belated fealty—may want to be America’s Aung San Suu Kyi. The Hillary who aims to be popular, though, stays the Tracy Flick of Washington politics. She wants it too bad; she can never be ready enough. We’ll watch her in 2016’s Election just as we watched her in 2008, just as we’ve watched her for decades, for the pleasure of watching a perfectionist trying to be loved.