Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Explaining Hillary: She listens

Posted By on Tue, Jul 12, 2016 at 10:34 AM

click to enlarge voxhillary.jpg

Ezra Klein at Vox has completed a big piece of reporting
endeavoring to explain why friends (sometimes even foes) have such a kinder view of Hillary Clinton than she herself projects on the campaign trail.

It's long and thoughtful.

I’ve come to call it “the Gap.” There is the Hillary Clinton I watch on the nightly news and that I read described in the press. She is careful, calculated, cautious. Her speeches can sound like executive summaries from a committee report, the product of too many authors, too many voices, and too much fear of offense.

The Iraq War mars her record, and the private email server and the Goldman Sachs paydays frustrate even her admirers. Polls show most Americans doubt her basic honesty. Pundits write columns with headlines like “Why Is Clinton Disliked?”

And then there is the Hillary Clinton described to me by people who have worked with her, people I admire, people who understand Washington in ways I never will. Their Hillary Clinton is spoken of in superlatives: brilliant, funny, thoughtful, effective. She inspires a rare loyalty in ex-staff, and an unusual protectiveness even among former foes.

Hillary herself has this explanation for the Gap.

“It’s always amusing to me that when I have a job, I have really high approval ratings,” Clinton said. “When I’m actually doing the work, I get reelected with 67 percent of the vote running for reelection in the Senate. When I’m secretary of state, I have a 66 percent approval rating.”

Her explanation for the Gap is simple enough. “There’s a lot of behavioral science that if you attack someone endlessly — even if none of what you say is true — the very fact of attacking that person raises doubts and creates a negative perspective,” she says. “As someone Exhibit A on that — since it has been a long time that I’ve been in that position — I get that.”

Klein doesn't buy this. But his explanation is not unflattering. And it's simple and supported by evidence: She listens.

She doesn't make every appearance about herself. She does her homework. When she says she's listening, it's not a rhetorical gimmick. She proves it by later actions. She builds relationships and consensus. So she may not be a compelling talker. 

Klein relates Hillary Clinton's behind-the-scenes work as first lady in Arkansas in the 1980s to see that a federal tax reform law windfall to the states turned into an income tax break for people in poverty. (Our governor today, Asa Hutchinson, said the working poor are lucky ducks and left them OUT of his tax cut.)

Her style has its downside, Klein writes, both in management and in press relations.

Several readers have been impressed by her response to a question about favorite books — nuanced thoughts about deep reads on public policy. Imagine, one said, what Donald Trump's answer might have been.

Which brings us back to politics. Will voters respond better to a blustering man proclaiming his greatness despite a poor business report card or a listening woman who aces every exam? I fear what the answer might be.


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