Yes, Hillary cries. She cries delivering her “would-be” presidential acceptance speech while invoking her mother.
Less astonishing (okay, not astonishing at all) is that Hillary appears to have prepared far harder for her class. It also includes bonus lessons and arrives fortified with zippy decoupage graphics, plus more historical footage and inspirational oomph.
The Clintons are the first entries in the MasterClass White House collection, with George W. and Laura Bush, Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright alighting in 2022. The Obamas, with their empire of content, are reportedly on the company’s wish list. Amanda Gorman and Mariah Carey will also teach classes. In January and February, MasterClass will expand its “Black History, Black Freedom, and Black Love” course with contributions from Nikole Hannah-Jones and Cornel West, among others.
Our hand is up. Why?
Why are the Clintons doing this? You don’t need more exposure or to pad your résumé when it includes former leader of the free world. Perhaps it’s the joy of pedagogy without interruption, students rudely scrolling through TikTok or the drudgery of grading papers. It lets teachers play to their skill set — the great books are themselves. And perhaps it’s the frisson of joining an exclusive club of more than 150 “masters,” one that includes Malala Yousafzai and Metallica, and sharing your knowledge to its 1.5 million subscribers (according to the New Yorker, though the company won’t say officially) at the introductory rate of $180 a year excluding tax.
The Clintons’ courses were filmed on a set designed to look like their Chappaqua, N.Y., residence, if it contained manicured replicas of their White House offices. They’re impersonally personal, with gender-tinged flourishes. He’s confined to a leather club chair — teaching leadership while sedentary seems an oxymoron, diluting his very Billness — while she’s perched in a delicate cream linen chair on a set swathed in Tiffany blue. All the hits are here. He bites his lip, pumps his thumb. His mother is mentioned. You get her Wellesley graduation address, on “the art of making what appears to be impossible possible.”
Hillary’s class is more universal, in that her subject is “the power of resilience” while his is “inclusive leadership.” We cannot all be leaders. Some of us don’t strive to be. A roomful of leaders doesn’t necessarily function well, as the U.S. Senate demonstrates almost daily.
Bill lets us know “you should always run as if you are behind, no matter how far ahead you are,” which made visions of 2016 Wisconsin dance in our head. Similarly, only one person sprang to mind when he gave the example of a “strong woman in a family” who has said “I love you but I don’t like you very much today,” noting that “we’ve all gotten a bit of that.” He tells stories. He runs on charm. He mentions the adage “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink,” then encourages us to “be the drinking horse. Make it happen.” Okay then.
Follow-up question. How much?
How much did MasterClass pay for almost six hours of Clintonian content? MasterClass, established in 2015 as a private company, does not impart such knowledge, but appears to be thriving enough to almost double its content in the past two years. Though the Clintons do plenty of philanthropy and are greatly invested in their legacy, their talk is not cheap. From February 2001 to May 2016, the couple raked in more than $153 million in speaking fees, according to a CNN analysis. On the other hand, they really, really like to talk. They gave 729 paid speeches during those years, and so many others gratis during their many campaigns.
The target audience for the Clintons or any MasterClass offering is “lifelong learners — anyone who is passionate about learning and wants to be inspired,” says marketing and publicity manager Tawnya Bear. Specifically, according to the New Yorker, the classes appeal to a group it deems “CATS — the curious, aspiring thirtysomethings who constitute a plurality of its audience.”
Bill and Hillary want us to lean on our own strengths. She’s a list maker. She shares a fat briefing book from one day on the campaign, March 22, 2016 — a detailed itinerary, photos and bios of leaders she would meet, 25 daily numbers about the economy, education and health care to update her talks. Both Clintons speak about public speaking. He suggests including a personal story. “I found out fairly early in life that the more people felt I was talking to them, the more likely my words were to have an impact,” he says.
MasterClass merges the American zeal for self-improvement with our impatience, quest for speed, convenience and unshaking belief that the celebrated know better. During our endless pandemic, it provides intellectual and spiritual takeout delivered to our home. Perhaps, we should absorb these classes cycling atop a Peloton, simultaneously developing mind and body.
The Clintons speak directly to you, the student — no striding around on a stage before a crowd you weren’t initially included in. The intimacy is key, learning behind the velvet rope. You can’t teach brilliance or charm or drive. They’re not infectious. But we can feel better being around others whom we perceive as having them in abundance.
MasterClass: Is the future of education paying $90 to watch Werner Herzog tell stories about eating maggots?
Hillary Clinton offers candor. “I’ve been criticized for my looks, my voice, my ambition. I’ve been viciously mocked and called terrible names,” she says. “And yes, it hurts. It bothers me.” She says, “I learned to take criticism seriously, but not personally.” Though, she adds: “Some people should not be taken seriously. They don’t deserve it.”
Former president Donald Trump, she says, “has this bullying, macho, overweening personality, and he wants to dominate everybody in his path at all times.” During the second 2016 presidential debate — you recall, the stalking one — she shares that she thought of telling Trump, “Back off, creep” but also realized that it risked voters thinking “she can’t take it.”
The “would-be” victory speech is her class’s lengthiest lesson. Depending on your opinion about Hillary Clinton — almost everyone seems to have one, indifference seeming elusive — it is either a nearly 20-minute exercise in masochism or a wellspring of hate-watching bordering on the erogenous. Its inclusion is also inspired marketing, giving this month’s launch instant buzz. Clinton says that she has never shared the speech with anybody (really?) or read the speech out loud before, which suggests she didn’t follow her own lesson six, “Studying Persuasive Speakers,” where she advises practicing speaking in front of a mirror.
In a bonus interview with protegee Huma Abedin, her longtime adviser who began her White House career as a college student, Hillary shares this statement that might have been better left on the cutting-room floor, “We could not run the White House without interns.”
The Clintons’ classes are intended to be inspirational and aspirational, with a salting of common sense. Bill: “The best decisions are made by diverse groups.” Hillary: “My time is the most precious asset that I have. It is the way I try to organize everything.” Bill: “You have to be tough as nails with your tender heart,” which might double as a country lyric. Hillary: “Make your bed in the morning, because you’re not getting back into it.”
Final grades: For Bill, B for content, B for presentation, C for effort. For Hillary: B-plus for content, B-plus for presentation, and for effort, A-plus-plus.