Over the course of her presidential campaign, there may be no more complete look at Hillary Rodham Clinton than two recent moments, both captured on video.
The first is a dimly lit clip of a tense backstage exchange with young activists from the Black Lives Matter movement. In it, the front-runner for the 2016 Democratic nomination was what her admirers say she is — and what the public rarely sees in the highly scripted environment of her campaign.
That Hillary Clinton was candid, blunt and pragmatic. She showed respect and empathy for the movement leaders’ concerns, as well as their life experiences. But she coached them to come up with a concrete a set of policy goals because “in politics, if you can’t explain it and you can’t sell it, it stays on its shelf.”
The day after that week-old video was released, Clinton showed another side — and a familiar set of traits that could undercut her efforts to win the White House.
In a testy news conference in which reporters grilled her about the growing controversy over her use of a private e-mail system while she was secretary of state, Clinton was caustic, dismissive and defensive. She punctuated her responses with exaggerated, exasperated shrugs.
Asked whether she had wiped clean her personal server before turning it over to the FBI, she said: “What, like with a cloth or something?”
Both episodes showed, for better or worse, an authentic version of Clinton — and a glimpse of what kind of president she would be.
“It’s everything she loves about politics and everything she hates about politics, back to back. And yet, both of them are part of the process,” said political consultant and pundit Paul Begala, who has known and worked with her for decades. Begala is now working for PAC Priorities USA Action, a pro-Clinton super PAC.
She did not give the Black Lives Matter activists all they wanted — particularly when they pushed her to shoulder some of the blame for the large share of African Americans in prison.
Clinton pushed back on the suggestion that policies such as a 1994 anti-crime law signed by her husband, then-President Bill Clinton, were, in the words of activist Julius Jones, “actually extensions of white-supremacist violence against communities of color.”
“I’m not sure I agree with you,” she said. “It’s important to remember — and I certainly remember — that there was a very serious crime wave that was impacting primarily communities of color and poor people.”
After the release of the video, Jones’s Black Lives Matter colleague Daunasia Yancey told MSNBC: “What we were looking for from Secretary Clinton was a personal reflection on her responsibility for being part of the cause of this problem that we have today in mass incarceration. So her response, really targeting on policy, wasn’t sufficient for us.”
At the same time, it may have been a good glimpse of how Clinton would operate as commander in chief.
She was engaging, respectful — and sure enough of herself to declare that she would not pander.
“You’re going to have to come together as a movement and say, ‘Here’s what we want done about it,’ ” Clinton said. “Because you can get lip service from as many white people as you can pack into Yankee Stadium and a million more like it who are going to say: ‘Oh, we get it. We get it. We’re going to be nicer.’ ”
“That’s not enough — at least in my book,” she added. “That’s not how I see politics.”
Meanwhile, the controversy over Clinton’s private e-mail system — and the question of whether it compromised national security by putting sensitive information into channels that were not secure — plays to another set of her reflexes.
Those often come into play when she is facing the news media.
“I don’t think she is secretive. I think she is private,” said one person who has known Clinton for more than 40 years. “She is zealous about her privacy.”
Yet in much of her public life, she has struggled to come to terms with the fact that privacy is an unrealistic expectation on the national stage.
In 1994, questions about her family’s financial dealings became so intense that she had to hold a 68-minute news conference to address them.
“I’ve always believed in a zone of privacy,” Clinton lamented then. “I told a friend the other day that I feel after resisting for a long time I’ve been rezoned.”
She also conceded that she had been “less understanding than I needed to [be] of both the press and the public’s interest, as well as [their] right to know things about my husband and me.”
There were still echoes of that old resistance at Tuesday’s news conference. She was asked about her decision to delete from her e-mail account more than 30,000 missives that she deemed private before turning in copies of what was left to the State Department in December.
“Look, my personal e-mails are my personal business, right?” she said. “So we went through a painstaking process and through 55,000 pages we thought could be worth relating. Under the law, that decision is made by the official. I was the official. I made those decisions.”
“We turned over everything that was worth relating, every single thing,” Clinton added. “Personal stuff, we did not. I have no obligation to do so.”
Those kinds of comments add to the questions that have been raised about the judgment she showed in making her original decision not to use a government e-mail account and to rely on a private one exclusively. The security of the material in her e-mail account is now the subject of an FBI investigation.
If Clinton were elected president, she would not receive the kind of discretion that she now claims in determining what is public and what is private.
When President Obama got to the Oval Office, he wanted to keep a personal BlackBerry so that he could continue to communicate with his closest circle, which was reported to be about 10 contacts.
At the time, his White House counsel’s office warned him not to expect any of them to remain private. All would be turned over to an independent archivist, who would determine which would ultimately become part of history’s record of his presidency.
Will Clinton ever get a chance to write her own presidential legacy? That may well depend on whether Americans see more of her hard nose and less of her thin skin.