The hardening of Hillary

Todd S Purdum writes: Slowly, inexorably over the years, she has grown a harder and harder shell until, like Marley’s ghost, she now wears the chain she’s forged in life, link by link and yard by yard. The effects of that armor plating are obvious. A desire for privacy has congealed into a demand for secrecy. Candor is dangerous; artifice is safe. Full disclosure is for suckers; hunkering down is the only way to win. Above all, too much honesty about yourself brings you only more grief.

It’s a lesson that’s been drummed into Clinton over and over again for the past quarter century. Reporters threw her 1969 Wellesley commencement speech — in which she said her class was “searching for more immediate, ecstatic and penetrating modes of living — back at her as an example of self-indulgent ‘60s gobbledygook. In the 1992 campaign, when she said defended her career by saying that she “could have stayed home, baked cookies and had teas,” and defended her straying husband by saying she was “not sitting here — some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette,” she was excoriated in many quarters (if praised in some others).

So, little by little, she gave in. And shut down. And clammed up. Even, perhaps, covered up a bit. She drafted her proposed overhaul of the nation’s health insurance system in almost complete secrecy, and paid a terrible political price. She stonewalled on inquiries into her and her husband’s business dealings, eventually all but assuring the appointment of the special prosecutor whose sprawling inquiry ultimately led to impeachment.

And now she is reluctant even to hold news conferences — on Thursday, after weeks of public pressure culminating in the health-scare imbroglio, she held one of the very few she’s had all year.

I witnessed the gradual Hardening of Hillary myself, as a reporter for The New York Times who covered the Clinton White House. On her first solo trip abroad — to South Asia in 1995 — she talked to me and other reporters traveling with her on almost every leg of the journey. But she insisted that all conversations be off the record, so it was almost impossible to reflect her curiosity and sometimes earthy sense of humor, including a long middle-of-the-night ramble about public obsession with her hair styles. When reporters told her at one point how impressive Chelsea, then 15, had been, she sighed, “Ah, yes, but now I have to take her home and put her back in purdah,” referencing the Muslim and Hindu practice of secluding women behind curtains and veils.

For all the public grind of this campaign, for all her public presence on the world stage over the past two decades, Clinton herself has increasingly spent her days in a kind of purdah, suppressing spontaneous utterances and surrounded by loyalists whose chief role is her care and feeding. She communicates only through a veil of unyielding self-protection, surrounded by a curtain of defensiveness.

So nowadays, almost no one outside Clinton’s innermost circle ever sees the tender side that loyal aides and friends insist is such a palpable part of her personality, but I can attest that it is there. When my father took his own life 20 years ago, she left me a solicitous voice mail, recommended books on suicide and months later was still asking how my family and I were coping. She shared her own grief over the suicide of her friend Vince Foster in an utterly unguarded way.

No more.

Today, Clinton is within reach of her longtime dream, becoming the first female president. But the latest polls show that she is still struggling against a GOP candidate whom even many of his fellow Republicans have described as unfit and whom most smart money says she would be trouncing if she didn’t have serious candor and credibility issues of her own. That’s the Hillary Clinton who provokes roughly 6 in 10 voters into repeatedly telling pollsters they do not see her as honest and trustworthy. The Hillary Clinton who can’t seem to get out of her own way, even when it comes to a simple story of whether she had the flu (her husband’s account) or pneumonia, and whether she was fine or not. [Continue reading…]

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