Clinton Shapes Her Image for ’08 Race
The focus of the article is how Clinton has positioned herself deftly for the '08 White House run - invoking the open, give-and-take, listen-first approach of a conversation, backed up by the firm strength of leadership. (Which plays in sharp-contrast to the blustery rhetoric of "the Decider" George Bush.)
“I’m Hillary Clinton, and I’m running for president,” she says at campaign appearances. Lamenting that her public image has been distorted by caricature, she often says, “I may be the most famous person you don’t really know.” In the cliché of contemporary politics, Mrs. Clinton is “reintroducing herself to the American people.”
She is, in this latest unveiling, the Nurturing Warrior. She displays a cozy acquaintance (“Let’s chat”) and leaderly confidence (“I’m in it to win it”). She is a tea-sipping girlfriend who vows to “deck” anyone who attacks her; a giggly mom who invokes old Girl Scout songs and refuses to apologize for voting for the Iraq War Resolution in 2002. Her aim, of course, is to show that she is tough enough to lead Americans in wartime but tender enough to understand their burdens.
It appears that Hillary's national re-introduction works well for those who actually attend the events, although it is difficult to tell if her national image is recovering.
“She connected with me much better than I expected she would,” said Rachel Stuart, in Berlin. “She was right there. There was a real sense of her as a great listener.”But she is also very conscious that she cannot appear to be soft or to be lacking the gravitas of a leader.
Mrs. Clinton clearly likes that portrayal. In face-to-face campaign settings, she brings her head close in, appearing engaged. After the Berlin conversation, Mrs. Clinton stopped in for one of those “spontaneous” campaign drop-bys at a local cafe (thoroughly scoped out by advance-people and Secret Service agents). She sat at a corner table and chatted with a group of local reporters.
“Conversation” audiences are predominantly female. At her events, Mrs. Clinton is more likely to call on women than men. She gets physically closer to women who approach her. She compliments their clothes and asks about their children.
She is proper and polite, diligent about thanking everybody, including “the janitor who got up at 5 a.m. to open the facility,” at Berlin Town Hall, “Tea Birds for the delicious food,” and “everyone in Berlin for making me feel so welcome.”
In Keene, N.H., in February, Mrs. Clinton said she was so thankful to all of the people “who gave me confidence,” not something that male politicians typically say. Nor do they worry aloud about gaining weight.
“I really don’t understand why people hate her so much except that they don’t like strong women,” said the Rev. Eleanor McLaughlin, the rector at St. Barnabas’ Episcopal Church in Berlin. “I get a lot of that myself.”
It is no easy task for Hillary to make herself known to Americans after they have spent 15 years seeing her vilified, or caricatured in the media. In an individual case-by-case basis, it seems clear that when people get to know Hillary the candidate, they like what they see. The vast majority of folks out there still see the broad-stroke pictures painted of her by her opponents. Only time will tell if her conversation is joined by enough people to make her Presidential bid successful.
She cannot appear mushy. She drops in periodic tough-talk, glibly mentions the time “my husband bombed Iraq,” or says she is willing to “shoot down” violators of a Darfur no-fly-zone. When asked in Des Moines how her campaign would differ from that of Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat and presidential nominee in 2004, she vows, “You can count on me to stand up and hold our ground and fight back.”
Everywhere she goes, Mrs. Clinton is invited to apologize for her Iraq vote in 2002, but no dice. “There are no do-overs in life,” she says. Tough self-love, in other words, implicitly chiding her girlie-men opponents for running around, saying they had made a mistake.
“I’m in the arena,” she said in Concord, quoting Theodore Roosevelt, one of the enduring political alpha-males in American politics. She says so in the high, insistent pitch of a fed-up mom.
Her constant “I’m in to win” affirmations convey a calibrated confidence. She prefers the “when I’m president” construction to the humbler “If you elect me president” qualifier.
“I want to have universal health care by the end of my second term” she announced at an education event in Nevada in February.