And yet, Clinton's public persona never seems to match those effusive descriptions. She is remarkably guarded, overly serious and, most dangerous of all, deeply cautious about what she says and does. That's all the more remarkable given both her deep and impressive resume as well as her status as an overwhelming favorite to be the Democratic nominee in 2016.
With a little candor, some spontaneity, a dash of Joe Biden’s tell-it-like-it-is impulse, she could be a captivating candidate. Instead, she’s conducting a classic frontrunner’s campaign, rhetorically focused on the general election, even while intent on finessing any issues that might give her Democratic rivals an opening.
To be clear, neither Lehigh nor I (and, yes, I am speaking for him) think Clinton should be Sen. Jay Billington Bulworth. (Although, admittedly, that would be fascinating.) But, a little bit of throwing-caution-to-the-wind attitude and at least the perception that she's winging it -- even a teeny bit -- could go a long way.
Clinton and her team almost certainly know that. Voters don't elect robots president. (Yet.) So, why isn't Clinton willing to show a bit more of her private self to the public?
It's possible that she has been "Hillary Clinton" for so long, that it's literally impossible for her to be just plain Hillary Clinton in public anymore. Whether you like Hillary Clinton or not, it's hard to argue that she's been picked over by other politicians, the media and the public in a way few other public figures have. Her allies, citing that fact, argue that her cautious and guarded approach to how she presents herself publicly is not a choice but a necessity born of the way she's been treated over the years. Once you've been raked over the coals 10 times, you stop walking anywhere near the coals.
Those experiences may make Clinton into what I was as a high school basketball player: Great (ok, good) in practice, terrible in games. As in, when she is in her comfort zone, surrounded by friends and people who work for her, Clinton can be herself. And, she can even accept the guidance from that group that she should be a little less scripted and cautious when in public. But, when she gets around strangers and the media, she reverts back to what she knows -- a caution bordering on paranoia.
But that public persona is deeply problematic for Clinton as she tries to convince voters that she represents the future not the past. In order to sell that argument, Clinton has to find ways -- ways that go beyond just words -- to show that the things people didn't like about the Clintons in the 1990s are in the rear view mirror and that she is a new and improved version of herself.
She's trying to do that with the focus on her new(ish) status as a grandmother and her kind-of, sort-of opening up about her mother's own struggles. (Lehigh's piece details that nicely.) But, the cautious gene still is very much on display. It's as though Clinton is physically (or mentally) incapable of loosening up on the campaign trail despite the fact that she knows from the last campaign she ran -- when she got emotional just before the New Hampshire primary -- that showing a little over her true self can be remarkably effective as a political tool.
That tendency toward caution is Clinton's biggest opponent in the Democratic primary at the moment. Given her massive advantages in the primary race, she'd do well to use the next six months to find ways to let who she is in private show in public a bit more. The question is whether Clinton, at this point in her career and her life, is capable of doing that.