Tuned In

Was Hillary's Moment Genuine? Calculated? Why Not Both?

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I didn’t want to let my colleague Lisa Cullen have to be the last person in the world to analyze the Hillary Clinton Misty Moment in New Hampshire this week. So I have decided to take that honor on myself.

The thing that gets me about all the media analysis of The Moment is that the pundits have treated it like a dichotomy: either she was genuinely overcome by tears she couldn’t hold back, or she was faking it.

I don’t think it was either. Or rather, maybe in a way it was both.

All of us get emotional, on the job, in pressure situations –you do, I do, she does, other candidates do (I think). Most of the time we (and they) hold it back when we’re in public or at work, for various reasons, some of which are gender-related, but generally we do hold it back.

I suspect that voter’s question did stir up genuine emotion in Hillary. As, I suspect, have many situations and questions in her public life. If she is a human being, and she is, then there had to be many times–in the middle of the Lewinsky scandal, when she was being attacked on health care, etc.–that she felt overwhelmed and like crying. As most people would on some level. Unless my memory fails me, she held it back in those situations. I can’t imagine anything that happened in New Hampshire was that much more trying than what happened to her in 1998.

In this case, a genuine emotion stirs up. She is under pressure. She does feel unfairly treated. She does want to be president to accomplish things, and realizes she may not get to. She also knows, from the campaign trail, that some voters feel that she was piled on by Obama and Edwards and the press, she knows that her biggest PR problem is not seeming weak or emotional–far from it–but, just the opposite, that she is viewed as too controlled and unapproachable and mannered.

She feels the emotion, and, in that moment, spontaneously, possibly without even thinking on a conscious level, decides it’s OK to let it go, just a little.

I mean, to me, that’s not weak or dishonest. It’s just showing good political instinct. So many great political moments are both genuine and calculated–they are about measured microcalculations as to when to reveal yourself, and how much–and that’s not necessarily a sinister thing. (In my eyes, it makes her a much savvier natural politician than I would have once thought.)

But that’s just me, and I fully admit that it is entirely unsubstantiated guesswork. I guess the nature of these moments is that everyone will read them according to their own worldview. If you have point to make about the treatment of women in the public sphere, it’s in your interest to see the tears are spontaneous. If you have an axe to grind about the Clintons, it’s in your interest to see them as a brilliantly planned plot.

But both analyses, I think, are either condescending or demonizing to Hillary, and simplistic about human nature. What we should remember, and what the surprise result in New Hampshire showed if nothing else, is that human beings are more complicated creatures than they are usually described on cable news. Especially once they decide to run for office.

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