HILLARY, LIKEABILITY AND THE LENS: At City Journal, Matthew Hennessey writes, “even with a quarter-century of ‘public service’ under her belt, Hillary can’t seem to connect with the average American:”
All politics is performance, but presidential politics is performance art. The successful candidate adjusts each appearance—whether on stage or on camera—in order to come across as knowledgeable, sincere, reasonable, diplomatic, and, above all, presidential. An actor used to working on stage alters his performance when he appears before a camera. Auditoriums are big; they need big voices and oversize personalities to fill them. Like stage actors, politicians working a live audience need to play to the last row. When a politician speaks from a podium, hosts a town hall meeting, or presses the flesh, the goal is to have each member of the audience leave thinking the performance was delivered directly to him.
Television screens, by contrast, are smaller, and demand a different type of performance. You don’t have to work so hard to get someone watching you on television to think that you’re talking directly to him. Close-ups reward subtlety, honesty, and true emotion. A camera is like an X-Ray machine. “[T]he camera looks into your mind, and the audience sees what the camera sees,” writes the actor Michael Caine in his book, Acting in Film. You can’t lie to a camera; it will expose you. Ronald Reagan understood this better than anyone.
The good news for Hillary is that coming across as genuine on camera is a skill that can be taught. Of course, it helps if you have talent. It’s even better if you take the job seriously, which, according to Klein, she did not. “I decided I had enough with the camera and the recordings and the coaches,” Hillary allegedly said. “I got so angry I knocked the f- -king camera off its tripod. That was the end of my Stanislavski period.” (It’s perhaps worth pointing out that Constantin Stanislavski, the Russian actor and director credited with pioneering an approach to acting eventually known as “the Method,” worked in live theater, not in film.)
Of course, when it’s focused on politicians, the TV camera lies all the time — just explore how made-for-television Barack Obama was in 2008; his on-air skills will serve him well when he leaves office at the end of next year, but meant nothing in terms of allowing voters to predict that the global disaster of his presidency. The same could be said to a lesser extent with Hillary’s own husband, who was remarkably telegenic in 1992, and then preceded, at least for the first two years of his presidency until a Republican Congress could prop him up, to forget virtually all of his campaign promises.
But there’s no doubt that Hillary, like Al Gore in 1999, comes across stiff, robotic and elitist when on TV – even to the most sympathetic of interviewers. But then, maybe that’s the problem – Ronald Reagan knew he was in a hostile media environment virtually every time he walked into a TV studio, and yet had the skill to project his charisma past the interviewer, to the viewers at home. In contrast, as Nick Gillespie writes at Reason on Hillary’s interview with Time-Warner-CNN-HBO spokeswoman Lena Dunham:
The interview is worth reading in its entirety, especially against the backdrop of Hillary Clinton’s falling poll numbers and her obvious interest in mounting something like a charm offensive. Dunham is clearly a willing co-conspirator in humanizing the candidate, as when she brings up a favorite “cold shoulder” dress of Clinton’s:
It was a design of my friend Donna Karan. And like everything I do, it turned out to be controversial. I’m hardly a fashion icon.
In moments such as these, Dunham’s (and Clinton’s) starfucking side undercut any pretension to reaching the average man or woman. Beyond the utterly unconvincing humblebrag declaration that she’s not a fashion icon but only a beleaguered gal trying to make it in a heartless world, Clinton can’t not place herself in the world of New York couture and high fashion. These are precisely the sorts of moments when Clinton loses the little people.
That’s a far cry from how her (now vegan!) husband chose to present himself to the world when running for the White House against the patrician George H.W. Bush — as a sort of cigar smoking, pot-smoking (but not inhaling!) Big Mac chomping new age good ol’ boy in 1992.
But then it could be worse — Hillary could be crying poverty again.