You can never know what that wacky Hillary Clinton will do next.
At the outset of her latest presidential campaign, she decided to drive from New York to Iowa for her first campaign stop. Or, to be more precise, she decided to be driven to Iowa by a Secret Service agent as part of a three-car caravan in keeping with her security needs.
For a former first lady and global celebrity, this is traveling light and spontaneous — let’s load up the Secret Service detail and blow this joint.
Her campaign referred to her vehicle as “her Scooby van,” evoking the lovable madcap crew of the cartoon series. This could be considered a cute little affectation, until you realize that she campaigned in a van in her 2000 Senate race, and for the same reason: to appear more relatable (the Secret Service reportedly referred to that vehicle, too, as the Scooby-Doo van).
Hillary Clinton has been reintroducing herself to the public for so long that even her manufactured stabs at authenticity aren’t entirely new.
Of course, the image she is trying to live down is the Hillary of the “Saturday Night Live” sketches, whose calling card is her gratingly insincere laugh and her cringe-inducing blatant calculations. It is her curse as a politician of stamina and determination, but not of natural grace, that her maneuvers to reveal her “real” self always feel like obvious maneuvers. To say that she lacks the light touch is almost as much of an understatement as saying her husband is not a monk.
Her announcement video spent more time dwelling on random people pursuing their dreams than it did on Hillary herself, a gesture toward her campaign’s focus on what she calls “everyday Americans.” These everyday Americans presumably are to be distinguished from the “occasional” or “once-a-week” Americans with whom Clinton spends her time in the normal course of things — the highflying donors, dignitaries, celebrities and operatives who inhabit the upper tier of American politics that she has called home for nearly 25 years.
Hillary’s worst moments on her book tour last year were her exaggerations, from the heights of her power, fame and wealth, of her own economic struggles. Negotiating the contrast between her middle-class message and her longtime upper-1-percent lifestyle would challenge an even more gifted politician.
Driving is something everyday Americans do, well, every day; Hillary hasn’t driven, not even a Scooby-Doo van, in 20 years. On the cusp of her announcement, ELLE magazine did a glamorous spread on Chelsea Clinton wearing Cartier, Bulgari and Tiffany and Co. jewelry, as befits the daughter of a burgeoning American political dynasty.
Perhaps Hillary can pull this off. It is easier to be a wealthy champion of the downtrodden as a Democrat. Consider Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But, with enough political ham-fistedness, it’s entirely possible to come off as an out-of-touch phony. Just ask John Kerry. Hillary is closer to the leaden Kerry or Al Gore on the spectrum of native political skill than she is to her husband or Barack Obama.
As potentially the first woman to be elected president, of course, she has “history” on her side. Kerry and Gore didn’t. But it’s not clear that this will work for her as powerfully as it did for Obama. His history-making first wasn’t just another item on his resume. It reinforced his case that America needed a thoroughgoing break with the politics of the past.
Hillary will have many strengths — an electoral map that tilts toward the Democrats, a Republican Party that is still suffering a hangover from the Bush years, prodigious fundraising. But her planned road trip to the White House, even if she manages to get to her destination, will be more a grim forced march than a joyful excursion. Its motto might as well be: Oh, the fun we will pretend to have!
Rich Lowry can be reached via e-mail: email@example.com.