Politics & Policy

Hillary Clinton’s Truman Show Campaign

If she can’t handle a kickoff speech, how could she handle the presidency?

In the catalogue of stock political events, a campaign launch may be as easy as it gets. Sure, first impressions are important. But you find a setting that is historically or personally significant, you hang a few American flags, you gather a crowd of cheering supporters, you talk about America’s great promise, you march out to an upbeat tune. The bar is low. It’s hard to screw up a campaign launch.

But Hillary Clinton might be about to do it. According to the Guardian, Clinton plans to announce her presidential campaign at noon on Sunday, en route to Iowa, “on Twitter . . . followed by a video and email announcement.” Getting to Iowa is suddenly so urgent that she has to make her announcement from a plane 30,000 feet over St. Louis? Hardly.

In 2008, Clinton announced via video, too — a 90-second clip in which she declared, “I’m not just starting a campaign. I’m starting a conversation — with you, with America.” Because nothing says “dialogue” like a pre-recorded video with only one person in the room.

Eight years later, the Clinton team is doing the same thing. Why? Because for someone who has spent her life in public, Hillary Clinton is very bad in public. And her team knows it.

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Consider the last month, which has given the uninitiated a rare but crucial glimpse behind the curtain into ClintonWorld®. After delaying appearing publicly to address revelations that, as secretary of state, she had violated State Department regulations and federal law, and endangered national security, by routing her work e-mails through a private server, Clinton held the worst press conference since tennis star Rafael Nadal spent an entire post-match press appearance moaning. Her laughable excuse (“convenience”) was immediately debunked (by her own prior statements), and even softball questions left her visibly tetchy.

It was a timely reminder that Hillary Clinton the Person, the actual flesh-and-blood human being, is wildly unappealing. She is at best awkward and boring; she is at worst cold and petulant and endowed with all the public graces of a product of Disney’s animatronics lab. Of course she seems fake. You can’t spend years appealing to the mean of a Frank Luntz focus group and still cast yourself as Joan of Arc.

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Hillary Clinton the Character, though, the carefully cultivated myth and lore and legend, does better.

Onto a senator and secretary of state and slayer of the patriarchy — or onto a just-like-you jivamukti practitioner and goo-goo-ing grandma — the masses (so goes the Democratic logic) can project their hopes and dreams and aspirations. “Come to me all you who are weary of male egos and burdened by income inequality . . . ” They know that the key to campaign success is keeping Hillary Clinton an archetype and avatar.

But presidents are not avatars (as the current president, and many of his erstwhile adorers, have learned). They are real people who must react in real time to real events. They have to decide unhesitatingly what to do when riots break out in a Missouri suburb, or when Vladimir Putin seizes a warm-water port, or when Islamic militants overrun an American embassy overseas. You can’t pre-record that 3 a.m. phone call. Why should a voter have confidence in Clinton’s ability to handle a crisis, when the Clinton team has no confidence that she can handle a live speech?

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#related#For decades, Hillary Clinton has had her entire life scripted. She has existed in a world insulated by handlers and managers and “her people,” all of whom are employed for the overarching purpose of mediating her engagement with the calamitous world “out there.” Yet every time the bubble is pricked, and we no longer have to see Hillary Clinton through limousine glass darkly, we rediscover her vices — her obsessive secretiveness, her arrogance, her shrewish treatment even of those closest to her — and the unmistakable fact that she is simply not equipped to deal with the world unmediated.

Hillary Clinton wants to run a Truman Show campaign. But what the last six years have made incontrovertibly clear is that you can’t run a Truman Show presidency.


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