Hillary Clinton doesn’t have to prove she’s a man. She has to prove she’s a woman.
She doesn’t have to prove to people that she’s tough enough or aggressive enough to be commander in chief. She doesn’t have to show she could and would wage a war. She has to prove she has normal human warmth, a normal amount of give, of good nature, that she is not, at bottom, grimly combative and rather dark.
This is the woman credited with starting and naming the War Room. Her staff has nicknamed her “The Warrior.” Get in her way and she’d squish you like a bug. This has been her reputation for 20 years. And it is her big problem. People want a president to be strong but not hard.
A longtime supporter of Mrs. Clinton’s spoke with candor some months back of her friend’s predicament. “We’re back where we were in ‘92—likability. Nothing has changed.”
Back then, when the Clintons were newly famous, their consultants were alarmed to find the American people did not believe Hillary was a mother. They thought she was a person with breasts in a suit. She had a briefcase and a latte and was late for the meeting, but no way did she have a child.
So the Clintons began to include their daughter, Chelsea, then 12, in campaign appearances. Which helped.
Where is Chelsea now? She’s trying to parallel park.
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The Sopranos video the Clintons made and released this week was smart and well done. It was witty and it was, quite literally, daring. It addressed yet again the likability problem, but from a new angle.
Mrs. Clinton’s most effective means of communication is not the debate stage, the sit-down interview or the podium, where her speeches are both tinny and hectoring. Her most effective area is in short campaign videos. You have seen them—Mrs. Clinton seated on a couch, with soft lighting. She is dressed in a soft pastel sweater or jacket, with a mellow strand of pearls, and flowers in the background. The videos are always artfully edited—she can do many takes—and that’s why they look so good.
In the short Soprano film, Mrs. Clinton was beautifully made up and quietly dressed in slacks and sweater like a handsome suburban lady waiting for her man at a booth in a diner. He looked great too. Of all modern presidents, Bill Clinton was most made for the camera. And he can really act. He actually looked disappointed at being served carrots and not onion rings.
The film jokingly acknowledges what the Clintons well know: that a certain portion of the voting population sees them as . . . well, as gangsterish. As dark, and dishonest to a degree more extreme than is usual even in political figures. By putting these perceptions so colorfully on the table, they make fun of them. And they invite their foes to go too far, at just the right moment, a year before the 2008 presidential race really begins. This is a good time for the Clinton campaign to face the charge that they’re Tony and Carmella. In a year such comments will be old hat, “a rehash,” or, as one of her campaign aides said when asked for reaction on the recent Hillary biographies—it was the best staff line of the year—“Is it possible for you to quote me yawning?”
So, the Sopranos spoof wasn’t bringing up That Which Must Not Be Said. It was saying it and getting rid of it. (A piquant aspect: The bad guy in the video who eyeballs Mrs. Clinton really “is” a mobster, the actor who played Johnny Sack in “The Sopranos.” The Clintons’ enemies are the real gangsters!)
As an added benefit, the spoof probably got some people actually paying attention, if only for a second, to the fact that Mrs. Clinton has chosen a campaign theme song. To hear it you must go to her site.
Why would Hillary pick a song distinguished only by its schmaltzy averageness? Because she thinks it’s the kind of music a likable, feminine middle class woman would like? Because her consultants researched the exact number and nature of fans who go to Celine Dion’s show in Vegas each years, and determined they are the exact middle of America? Because it focus-grouped well? All of the above?
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As for her attempts to appeal to centrists, two items deserve note. One is that Mrs. Clinton has taken, on the stump, to referring to herself as “born . . . in the middle of America in the middle of the century.” This is interesting because it’s word for word what George H.W. Bush said in 1988 when he introduced his choice of Dan Quayle. She has also taken to referring to herself as famous but unknown, which is exactly what was said of Vice President Bush the same year. Mrs. Clinton seems to have been studying 1988, which was the last time anyone won the presidency in a landslide.
But there is another side of the Clinton campaign, and I found some of it this week. It is a new Web site called HillaryIs44.com. It is rather mysterious. It does not divulge who is running the site, or who staffs it. It is not interactive; it has one informative voice, and its target audience seems to be journalists and free-lance oppo artists.
And it reads like The Warrior’s Id. Hillary “took on” a journalist this week and “beat him into submission.” Bloomberg has “stripped himself of allies” in “New York’s cutthroat politics.” “Expect stormy days ahead for Bloomberg,” who will wind up “lonely.” Republicans “will attempt to rip him to shreds.” “A May surprise announcement will be met with mounds of research accumulated over the next 11 months.”
In tone the site is very Tokyo Rose.
Encouraging readers to send in “confidential tips,” its primary target and obvious obsession is Barack Obama. “Senator Barack Obama (D-Rezko) is busy lately lying about President Bill Clinton” and “attacking entire communities.” “We have written extensively on Obama, and his indicted slumlord friend Antoin ‘Tony’ Rezko. We have repeatedly warned David Axelrod, Michelle Obama and Barack Obama that this story is not going away.” The Obama campaign is “still posing as innocents incapable of doing anything unsavory even as evidence mounts that unsavory is their favorite dish.” “Dirty Obama Smear” and “Obama’s Dirty Mud Politics” are two recent headlines.
This appears to be the subterranean part of Hillary’s campaign, the part that quietly coexists with the warm, chuckling lady playing the jukebox with her husband. It coexists with the Maya Angelou part, the listening tour part, the filmed parts.
It is the war room part. I suspect the site is a back door to that war room.
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Politics ain’t beanbag. It is not, generally, an ennobling profession.
But if Mrs. Clinton’s aides want to understand better her likability problem, they should look at this site. It’s dark in there.