Hillary and the Authenticity Question

Jun 26, 2007 10:53am

One of the hurdles Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-NY, faces in her run for the White House may come from her public speaking style. To some, the junior senator from New York can seem in speeches to be warm, compelling, amusing, human — the way her friends and supports say she is in private. But I’ve also heard many Democrats complain that she can also seem cold, hard, and unpleasant. And they fear nominating a candidate like that.

nm clinton 070626 bl Hillary and the Authenticity Question

I’m convinced, completely unscientifically, that there is an American Idol factor when it comes to elections, beyond substance, beyond positions on issues, in which Americans ask themselves: Who do I want to listen to for the next four years?

It’s tough to quantify such an X factor, but I do think it’s there.

During the first debate between then-Gov. George W. Bush and then-VP Al Gore, that the Democrat seemed hectoring and scolding. While Bush certainly had his own issues, and ultimately Gore did win the popular vote, at a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity some might argue (Bill Clinton, for instance), that Gore should have won that election in a cakewalk.

While there are ever so many reasons why Gore didn’t end up sending a U-Haul to Pennsylvania Avenue (CLICK HERE FOR SOME OF THEM), many Democratic officials have told me that they think, in the guts of some voters, there may have been a reluctance to watch him on their TVs for four years.

Now, whether Hillary Clinton has this issue is an open question. But I bring you these blog postings about an exchange that raises the issue

(Following the lead of master-blogger Andrew Sullivan LINK, no Hillary fan, I should say.)

It starts with the website "Wilshire and Hollywood" (LINK) where Variety managing editor Ted Johnson reports on a fundraiser at the home of Tinseltown’s Roland Emmerich, auteur of Independence Day, Godzilla, and The Day After Tomorrow.

Writes Johnson: "Clinton called on a girl in the seventh grade, who asked her about breaking through glass ceilings. She then answered more questions, including one about health care, before calling on one man who suggested that her answers were a bit too scripted. Some donors booed the man. Looking a little miffed, Clinton responded to the so-called ‘authenticity question.’ I don’t have the direct quote, but Clinton apparently pointed to the fact that she has been giving many speeches a day — why doesn’t he try doing that? And she drew cheers when she ended the response with,  ‘And that wasn’t a canned answer.’"

At Huffington Post, the booed man — playwright and screenwriter Jon Robin Baitz — responds (LINK):

From the Wilshire & Washington blog today, in a piece about a fundraiser for Senator Clinton at the Hollywood Hills home of Roland Emmerich held last Friday evening:

"I am the man who suggested that the senator’s answer to a single question felt — well, sorry — a little bit like a set-up. In retrospect, I was not particularly polite, though I didn’t set out to be rude, and did preface my inquiry with a declaration of hope that she becomes the next president, which I repeated even through the smattering of boos and gasps that were directed my way. (Maybe in Manhattan, the response would have been different.) And moreover, I had been pleasantly surprised and impressed by Ms. Clinton’s discourse until the moment described above. She spoke about the things I care most about – health care, children’s welfare, and our credibility with the rest of the world. She talked intelligently on Iraq. She talked of sexual equality, which needed to be addressed in a heavily gay crowd. She was inspiring on a number of points, and felt human and empathetic even. So, when she called on the charming young lady in the pretty dress to her left, and it all turned into rote, I sighed, deflated, and looked around, and saw a few people rolling their eyes at the obviousness of the moment, and I quietly got angrier than anyone else gathered beside the gorgeous Hollywood pool."

Baitz says that his "question was spiked away easily by the candidate. I had set up a volleyball serve and she’d spiked it back hard and glib. I did her more good than the lovely young girl with the glass ceiling thing. People applauded her and glared at me. The young lady in charge of the mike hissed at me, and a couple I knew accused me of being cynical AND naive at the same time. (True, that.)"

His larger point was that he "felt gypped for a moment by her, at the moment when I felt let down (again!), something snapped. And when I bemoaned it, more out of worry — if you’re fake here, where the hell will you be real? — she bristled at me. And when her answer to my criticism was merely, ‘You try delivering twelve of these a week,’ I knew that she bristled simply because she knows how vulnerable she is when it comes to being over-rehearsed. Because she knows that there has been a kind of life-long coarsening that we all write off as collateral damage to being in the business of elections for as long as she has. I wanted to say, ‘your answer wasn’t canned but it sure wasn’t honest’…

"But by then, the microphone was already being wrenched away from me by a fleshy, sunburnt functionary of the night, which prevented me from really losing my cool and saying, ‘Lady, that’s the gig, that’s the gig, I don’t care how HARD it is — and if you can’t give a consistent, spontaneous, genuine answer to someone who is essentially on your side, than how are you gonna wow them where they’re not inclined to give you the time of day…?’ …

"I was looking for the authentic, the real, and the righteous. And all I saw was the peeved. I gave as much money as I could to the thing. I suppose if this election plays out the way I think it may, she could get my vote. But I don’t think she’ll ever make my heart sing. Is such a thing even possible now?"

What do you think?

– jpt

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