Who is Hillary Clinton? Whoever You Want Her to Be

Who is Hillary Clinton? After more than a quarter century at the center of the world stage you’d think we would know more about what makes her tick. And yet Clinton is as amorphous as ever. She is simultaneously a public servant who takes prioritizes her privacy so much that she always skirts, and often breaks, the law in defense of it. But she’s also a shrewd politician who clearly revels in her status as a public figure.

Similar to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which prevents us from knowing the position and momentum of a particle simultaneously, it appears impossible to square Clinton’s ambitions with her thought processes. The more clearly we can see her striving towards a particular office the fuzzier her particular policy platform becomes.

The clearest way to square Clinton’s various political incarnations is to see her as a cipher: A nebulous politician willing to adopt whatever identity is required of the moment in order to win. To get a better understanding of how this works check out this New York Times’ scoop from her husband’s time in the White House:

 In late April, the political professionals working to make Bill Clinton President realized they had a potentially fatal problem: at least 40 percent ofthe voters did not much like Mr. Clinton. They saw him as a “wishy-washy,” fast-talking career politician who did not “talk straight.”

They liked Hillary Clinton even less, regarding her as “being in the race for herself,” as “going for the power,” and as a wife intent on “running the show.”

Arguing that these images were wrong and unfair, the Clinton organization’s polling expert, Stan Greenberg; its chief strategist, James Carville, and its media consultant, Frank Greer, set out in a confidential memorandum to Mr. Clinton an ambitious political rehabilitation. They proposed the construction of a new image for Mr. and Mrs. Clinton: an honest, plain-folks idealist and his warm and loving wife.

The puppetry went so far as to have the Clinton’s go on pre-planned dates, set up a scheme whereby “Bill and Chelsea surprise Hillary on Mother’s day,” and foster situations in which “Hillary can laugh, do her mimicry.”

A family-centric supermom that exuded warmth, not a cold, calculating power behind-the-scenes powerbroker, was what voters wanted, and in the end it was what voters got. Hillary didn’t change, but her image did.

Now, it seems, Hillary Clinton is undergoing a similar shift in her race to get back to the White House, this time as the president rather than First Lady. The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd writes:

President Obama has said: “If she’s her wonderful self, I’m sure she’s going to do great.” But which self is that?

Instead of a chilly, scripted, entitlement policy wonk, as in 2008, Hillary plans to be a warm, spontaneous, scrappy fighter for average Americans. Instead of a woman campaigning like a man, as in 2008, she will try to stir crowds with the idea of being the first woman president. Instead of haughtily blowing off the press, as in 2008, she will make an effort to play nice.
It’s a do-or-die remodeling, like when you put a new stainless steel kitchen in a house that doesn’t sell.”

To be clear, it will be a tough sell, especially when she’s only peddled her wares at events for Wall Street bankers for $200,000 a plate. There’s just no way around the fact that Clinton leads a “Gatsby-like existence,” as MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough says, a nice way of saying that she lives a lavish, star-studded lifestyle that most Americans can’t even comprehend. After all, the closest she’s ever gotten to being relatable was submitting a text to the short-lived Tumblr, Texts From Hillary, which poked fun at her detached seriousness.

But she’s trying. Over the last several months she’s been hunkered down (to the extent the winds of scandal have let her) with advisors to figure out how to appeal to the middle class. The New York Times’ reported last month that she sought advice from more than 200 policy experts from “the left and closer to the Democratic Party’s center who are grappling with the discontent set off by the gap between rich and poor.

This represents yet another rebranding effort, an effort to shift away from her time in the Senate in which she “supported bankruptcy legislation that some Democrats – most notably Elizabeth Warren, now senator from Massachusetts – argued hurt working families and single mothers, and they accused her of doing the bidding of the financial industry.”

Clinton, it seems, is whomever she thinks you want her to be. Maybe that’s evidence of a shrewd politician. Or maybe it’s just someone who doesn’t have any big ideas