Politics & Policy

Humanizing Hillary: The Impossible Dream

(Ethan Miller/Getty)

All is not well at inevitability camp. Exasperated at the manner in which their charge is perceived, Hillary Clinton’s confidantes have decided that it is time for yet another reboot of the campaign. Per Amy Chozick, writing in today’s New York Times, Clinton’s champions hope that by shaking things up, they will be able to “show her humor” and her “heart” — to focus in, that is, on those sides of Hillary’s personality “that are often obscured by the noise and distractions of modern campaigning.” “There will be no more flip jokes about her private email server,” Chozick reports. “There will be no rope lines to wall off crowds.” Moreover, “there will be new efforts to bring spontaneity to a candidacy that sometimes seems wooden and overly cautious.” From now on then, things will be different: The schedule will call for routine improvisation; the scripts will be crafted to convey ineffability; the audiences will be expected to react viscerally to the latest plan du jour.

If Clinton is to enjoy the fruits of this alteration, there will be little time to lose. In New Hampshire and in Iowa, her rival Bernie Sanders is ascendant, in no small part because he is regarded as an authentic voice. In Washington, D.C., the perpetually extemporaneous Joe Biden is debating his future amid seductive voices that are calling, increasingly loudly, for his entry. On the Republican side of things, meanwhile, Donald Trump is doing his best to re-popularize aleatory free verse. For months now, the Clinton team has heard a faint ticking sound beyond the blue horizon; day in, day out, it has grown ever louder. Should they wish to forestall its progress by installing and debugging the Joy! Module, they had better act fast.

There is still a good chance that Clinton will end up in the White House in January 2017. But, if she does finally make it, it is likely to be despite, not because of, her insipid personality. This, remember, is Clinton’s third election in 16 years — the culmination of decades of scheming and calculating and learning from her mistakes. And yet, as if in open contempt of her advantages, she remains so hilariously wooden and meticulously hyper-scripted that it is beginning to seem as if she’d be better off bypassing the whole commander-in-chief gig and heading directly into the cast of eerie, wax-like animatronics that populate Disney World’s “Hall of Presidents.” Before she launched this year’s foray, a close aide reportedly lamented that Clinton “knows more about Libya than she knows about Iowa,” and that this is obvious on the campaign trail. On the face of it, one imagines that this is a touch harsh: Surely, she isn’t that bad? And then one picks up the New York Times and discovers that Clinton’s grasp of life between the coasts is so limited in scope that, until yesterday afternoon, she believed that christening rank-and-file voters “Everyday Americans” might be a winning approach in the impending election.

#share#In both her mien and in her efforts to alter it, Mrs. Clinton cannot help but remind one of a famous Douglas Adams character, Praxibetel Ix. One of the stars of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, Ix is an alien from the planet Betelgeuse who is masquerading on Earth as a human being. Ix’s disguise isn’t too bad, but, having “skimped a bit on his preparatory research,” he doesn’t quite manage to pull off the ruse without leaving a few tell-tale clues. Attempting to contrive an “everyday” English name, he calls himself Ford Prefect; hoping to convey friendliness, he issues forth smiles that tend to “send hitherto sane men scampering into the trees.” It’s not, you will note, that Ix is obviously not human; it’s that he is so close to being so that it sets your teeth on edge. As Robotics professor Masahiro Mori noticed in 1970, “almost-human” is often considerably more alarming than is “noticeably different.” Why are Hillary’s laugh sequences so bone-jarringly awful? Because they’re nearly there.

The attempt to get Hillary to the 100 percent human mark has been a challenge of extraordinary complexity.

Is it fixable? Probably not, no. The attempt to get Hillary to the 100 percent human mark has been a challenge of such extraordinary complexity that famed “vaporware” shooter Duke Nukem Forever looks like a weekend coding project in comparison. All told, there has been no point in the last two decades during which the chaps at the DNC have not been working on it in some form or another. Back in 2007, as Hillary’s primary support started to collapse, the New York Times noted that she was hoping to resuscitate her chances by embarking on a much-delayed “likability” tour. “The major question” for the “Clinton team in Iowa,” the Times proposed, was this: “Did it wait too long to try to humanize Hillary?”

#related#Given that the venture was supposed to begin in earnest in the late 1990s, the answer may well be a resounding “Yes.” At Buzzfeed earlier this year, Ruby Cramer and Megan Apper attempted to chronicle the ups and downs of what they described as the “20-year Hillary Clinton Humanization project.” They were helped in their investigation by the release of 4,000 previously sealed documents from the Clinton Presidential Library — documents which show, among other things, that Hillary’s reputation for humorlessness, penchant for stern censoriousness, and tendency toward a “defensive” “bunker mentality” have been vexing confidantes since the Spice Girls were showing us how it’s done. When running for office for the first time in 1999, Reuters records, Clinton was instructed repeatedly to be “chatty, intimate, informal,” and, above all, “real.” Four Manhattan Projects later, and she still hasn’t got close to this goal. Time to hope that one of those insurgent OFA kids has been working on a patch.

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