Favorite

The real Hillary 

Hillary Clinton image
  • Hillary Clinton

One of the funniest conversations I've heard took place among a small group of Arkansas women who'd done their best to clue the newlywed Hillary Rodham in on a basic fact of Southern life she'd been reluctant to accept in the 1970s: cute counts. It's not necessary to be a beauty queen, but a woman who doesn't look as attractive as she can is often suspected of being too "authentic" for her own good.

The lady lumberjack look then fashionable on Ivy League campuses confused Arkansas voters, as did Hillary's decision to keep her maiden name after marriage. (As the husband of a Southern girl often patronized to her face in a New England college town back then, I can testify that cultural incomprehension can run both ways. But that's another topic.)

The point is that Hillary Rodham Clinton listened. As she later explained, she hadn't really understood how strongly people in Arkansas felt about the name thing. So she took the name "Clinton" to stop sending a message she'd never intended. About the same time, it became fairly obvious that she'd started taking clothing, makeup and hair styling tips from women friends and quit looking like an outsider, too.

So does that make her more or less "authentic" by current journalistic standards? Does it make her a big faker, the "manipulative, clawing robot" of a Maureen Dowd column? Or a relatively normal human being adjusting to the expectations of the people around her?

Not long afterward, Hillary also started doing something very much like what she's recently been doing in Iowa and New Hampshire: holding small-scale town meetings with local school boards, parents and teachers in support of the newly re-elected Bill Clinton's Arkansas education reforms.

Clinton's 1983 education package — its slogan was "No More Excuses" — brought math, science and arts classes to many rural school districts for the first time. It raised teacher salaries and increased taxes to fund them. Over time, it's helped close the historic gap between the state's country and city schools.

And before the campaign was over, Arkansas's first lady was on a first-name basis with thousands of, yes, "everyday people" in all 75 Arkansas counties. She came, she saw, she talked and she listened. As a secondary matter, Hillary's image problems among Arkansan voters faded away.

How it works is pretty simple: You accept Arkansas, Arkansas accepts you. I'm pretty sure this is broadly true of Iowa and New Hampshire voters, too. So is there an element of calculation in Hillary's latest listening tour? Sure there is.

Is it merely cheap political theater?

Look, she's a professional politician running for president. Of course her campaign events are stage-managed. How could they not be? Just as she ran for the U.S. Senate from New York back in 1999, a state where she'd never actually lived.

Although New Yorkers tend to be more flattered than offended when famous carpetbaggers descend upon them, she held small forums all across the state — impressing most observers with her industriousness and knowledge of local issues.

She's a very smart cookie, Hillary Rodham Clinton. And she always does her homework. No, she's not a mesmerizing speaker like Bill, and not the most outwardly charismatic politician in the race (whoever that may be). GOP focus groups say her biggest weakness is their perception of her "entitlement" and seeming remoteness from ordinary people's lives.

So off she goes on another listening tour. "A sweet, docile granny in a Scooby van," Dowd sneers. However, contrary to reporters who marvel at Hillary's "willingness to put on the hair shirt of humility to regain power," she actually appears to enjoy the fool things.

Partly, it's a woman thing. See, Hillary and my wife worked together back when the governor's wife served on the board of Arkansas Children's Hospital. Diane always mentioned two things: how hard she worked on children's health issues, and how she never pulled rank.

But what really endeared her to my wife was Hillary's empathy during a prolonged medical crisis involving our son. At times, Diane was under terrible emotional strain. Hillary never failed to show concern. Was the new treatment helping? Had we thought about seeking another opinion? She acted like a friend when my wife needed all the friends she could get.

And no, there was nothing in it for her. I wasn't a political journalist then. It wasn't about me. It was about two mothers.

In an article unfortunately titled "Manufacturing Authenticity," Slate's John Dickerson gets it right. For all her privilege and celebrity, Hillary "has something going for her that other politicians do not when it comes to these kinds of events ... she has thought about family issues her entire life."

Dickerson marveled that in Iowa, "Clinton actually appeared to be listening."

And that could turn out to be her secret weapon.

Favorite

Speaking of Hillary Clinton

Comments (19)

Showing 1-19 of 19

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-19 of 19

Add a comment

More by Gene Lyons

  • Hillbillies

    Anybody who can sing the lyrics to David Allan Coe's "You Never Even Called Me by My Name" probably won't find a whole lot in J.D. Vance's hotly debated, bestselling memoir "Hillbilly Elegy" that's real surprising.
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • Lost in Real America

    Following the 2016 election, some readers have accused me of being out of touch with the Real America — that mythic locale inhabited by people who vote like them and watch the same TV shows they do.
    • Jan 5, 2017
  • Mass delusions

    Americans have always thought themselves a practical, commonsensical people, a nation of Thomas Edisons and Henry Fords. (Never mind that industrial genius Ford was also a political crank whose treatise "The International Jew," influenced Nazi race theory.) In reality, we've always been a nation of easy marks.
    • Dec 15, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Killer's failure

    Has any murdering terrorist ever failed more dramatically than Dylann Storm Roof? Like any punk with a gun, he managed to slaughter nine blameless African-American Christians at an historic church in Charleston, S.C. Intending to start a race war, he succeeded only in shocking the moral conscience of the state and nation.
    • Jun 25, 2015
  • Obama takes long view

    Right now, it's beginning to look as if President Obama will end up deserving the Nobel Peace Prize he was so prematurely awarded in 2009.
    • Jul 23, 2015
  • Trump and political correctness

    So I see where candidate Donald Trump and former Gov. Sarah Palin are complaining about "political correctness," the supposedly liberal sin of being too polite to tell the unvarnished truth. Me too. I've always laughed at the follies of self-styled "radical" left-wing professors.
    • Sep 3, 2015

Most Shared

Latest in Gene Lyons

  • Hillbillies

    Anybody who can sing the lyrics to David Allan Coe's "You Never Even Called Me by My Name" probably won't find a whole lot in J.D. Vance's hotly debated, bestselling memoir "Hillbilly Elegy" that's real surprising.
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • Lost in Real America

    Following the 2016 election, some readers have accused me of being out of touch with the Real America — that mythic locale inhabited by people who vote like them and watch the same TV shows they do.
    • Jan 5, 2017
  • Mass delusions

    Americans have always thought themselves a practical, commonsensical people, a nation of Thomas Edisons and Henry Fords. (Never mind that industrial genius Ford was also a political crank whose treatise "The International Jew," influenced Nazi race theory.) In reality, we've always been a nation of easy marks.
    • Dec 15, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Indian Rock House at Fairfield Bay

Indian Rock House at Fairfield Bay

Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived

Event Calendar

« »

January

S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Hillbillies

    • Not angry at all. Just stating the obvious. And you owe Nanc a huge apology…

    • on January 17, 2017
  • Re: Hillbillies

    • Why Mr. G - harsh words - oh, how I do love to get you…

    • on January 17, 2017
  • Re: Hillbillies

    • Yes, Nanc, it makes her feel good. She's a petty, mean, vindictive, one-issue crazy woman…

    • on January 17, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation