The news that Hillary Clinton is expected to appear on "Saturday Night Live" represents a clear recognition by her campaign that she has an image problem with the American public that needs fixing — and fast.
In order to appear, Mrs. Clinton turned down the chance to give the keynote address to the influential Human Rights Campaign, the country’s most powerful lesbian and gay rights group, which will allow her to make the debut SNL appearance of her 2016 campaign, said several people with knowledge of her schedule who could not discuss private planning for attribution.
Who is keynoting the Human Rights Campaign gathering in Clinton's place, you ask? One Joe Biden, vice president of the United States, who is openly contemplating a challenge to Clinton in the 2016 presidential primaries.
Clinton is snubbing the most powerful LGBT group in the country for a chance at five minutes (or so) of airtime at 11:30 p.m. on a Saturday because she and her campaign know that they have to poke a hole in the current perception of her as guarded, stiff and not terribly honest. There's no better way to do that than laughing at yourself in front of a few million people. Self-deprecation — especially via humor — is the secret weapon of any candidate trying to change a negative perception about him- or herself.
And Clinton is absolutely fighting a negative image. In a Washington Post-ABC News national poll conducted this month, just 33 percent of registered voters said the words "honest" and "trustworthy" applied to Clinton, while 62 percent said they did not. Those numbers include 58 percent of independents who don't think Clinton is honest and trustworthy and, perhaps more surprising, 1 in 3 Democrats (32 percent) who say those words don't describe her.
And it's not just the WaPo-ABC poll or even national polling. There have been a slew of polls in swing states that suggest that Clinton's numbers on the honest/trustworthy question are in a similarly bad place.
There's no debate as to what has caused Clinton's slippage in the race. It's her inability to effectively deal with the existence of the private e-mail server she used exclusively while serving as secretary of state from 2009 to 2013. Clinton's botched handling of the issue has reminded people of all the things they associate with the Clintons and don't like — a sense that the rules don't apply to them, a paranoia that everyone is out to get them and a tendency to surround themselves with people who aren't willing to or can't tell them that certain things are just bad ideas.
When you are as well known as Clinton is — and so many people have their minds made up about you — it's virtually impossible to snap your fingers and change how people see you. And obviously, a single appearance on SNL won't do that.
But if you are a politician who needs to show people — or at least start showing people — that you get the joke and that you know change is necessary, SNL is a pretty good place to do it. Sure, nerds like me will watch the segment live and dissect it. But the takeaway for most voters will be that Clinton went on "Saturday Night Live" and poked some fun at herself about her e-mail issue.
That's a good takeaway for Clinton — and one she badly needs at the moment.