Hil­lary Clin­ton, sto­ry­teller

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Cokie and Steve Roberts Colum­nists Steve and Cokie Roberts can be con­tacted by email at steve­cokie@gmail.com.

Hil­lary Clin­ton has a long his­tory of hid­ing the whole truth about her­self. The lat­est ex­am­ple — de­clin­ing to re­veal for 48 hours that she was suf­fer­ing from pneu­mo­nia — was a se­ri­ous mis­take that chewed an­other chunk out of her al­ready shaky cred­i­bil­ity. But the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing Clin­ton’s ill­ness over­shad­owed a fas­ci­nat­ing mo­ment when she over­came her pen­chant for pri­vacy and gave a re­veal­ing in­ter­view to the web­site Hu­mans of New York (HONY). Just days be­fore she stum­bled, lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively, on a New York side­walk, Clin­ton told the story of tak­ing a law school ad­mis­sions test as a col­lege se­nior dur­ing the height of the Viet­nam War.

One of only a few women “in a big class­room at Har­vard,” she de­scribed the scene: “While we’re wait­ing for the exam to start, a group of men be­gan to yell things like: ‘You don’t need to be here.’ And ‘There’s plenty else you can do.’ It turned into a real ‘pile on.’

“One of them even said: ‘If you take my spot, I’ll get drafted, and I’ll go to Viet­nam, and I’ll die.’ And they weren’t kid­ding around. It was in­tense. It got very per­sonal. But I couldn’t re­spond. I couldn’t af­ford to get dis­tracted be­cause I didn’t want to mess up the test.”

That ex­pe­ri­ence, she went on, helps ex­plain one of her big­gest po­lit­i­cal weak­nesses. “I had to learn as a young woman to con­trol my emo­tions,” she said. “And that’s a hard path to walk. Be­cause you need to pro­tect your­self, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don’t want to seem ‘walled off.’ And some­times I think I come across more in the ‘walled off’ arena.”

Clin­ton’s in­ter­view was posted min­utes be­fore Steve taught a class at Ge­orge Washington Univer­sity called “Me­dia, Pol­i­tics and Govern­ment.” The lap­tops and cell­phones of his stu­dents im­me­di­ately pinged and swooshed as dozens of their friends shared the post. Her words ig­nited a level of in­ter­est in Clin­ton’s cam­paign that has been painfully lack­ing among younger vot­ers.

The episode says a lot about Clin­ton’s con­tin­u­ing strug­gle to find a nar­ra­tive that con­nects to the hearts and hopes of or­di­nary vot­ers. One of the main rea­sons she lost to Obama eight years ago was his bril­liant abil­ity to tell sto­ries that con­veyed a strong but sim­ple mes­sage: “I’m just like you.” And as she said in the HONY in­ter­view, she might not have that tal­ent, but she knows it when she sees it.

“I’m not Barack Obama. I’m not Bill Clin­ton,” she said. “Both of them carry them­selves with a nat­u­ral­ness that is very ap­peal­ing to au­di­ences.” It’s “hard work to present your­self in the best pos­si­ble way . ...

Many com­men­ta­tors on the HONY in­ter­view echoed Clin­ton’s lament. “Women all over the world know this as fact, all too much,” posted Michelle Jenk­ins. “Be quiet, but not too quiet. Be smart, but not too smart ... it goes on and on.” Added Robin Kennedy: “Be pretty, but not too pretty ... be firm, but not too bitchy ... on and on.”

Clin­ton knows how im­por­tant it is to tell com­pelling sto­ries, and she’s tried out sev­eral dur­ing the cam­paign: her im­mi­grant grand­fa­ther work­ing in a Scran­ton, Penn­syl­va­nia, lace mill; her mother run­ning away from an abu­sive home at 14; Face­tim­ing with her grand­daugh­ter, Char­lotte.

But those anec­dotes have not con­nected with many younger vot­ers. The Washington Post, for ex­am­ple, re­ports a tight­en­ing race in Penn­syl­va­nia, and quotes one poll­ster’s ex­pla­na­tion: “We know who is not turn­ing out: the col­lege stu­dents and the mi­nori­ties.”

If Steve’s stu­dents are any guide, Clin­ton’s tale of be­ing be­rated by hos­tile men who didn’t think she be­longed in law school touched a chord of recog­ni­tion, es­pe­cially with the younger women she needs to en­er­gize. The les­son: Leave her “walled off” fortress more of­ten, and tell sto­ries that re­veal both her strug­gles and her strength.

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