As Hillary Clinton begins the most important days of a political career marked by extraordinary experience and pathbreaking accomplishment, CNN spent much of last week quoting unnamed people rightly or wrongly cited as close to Clinton who suggested the rollout plan for her presidential candidacy would bring forth a "new Hillary."
I am a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton for president, but here is my warning to her: American voters don't want to be sold a "new Hillary," which is reminiscent of an earlier politician whose handlers invented the term "new Nixon." They want to be trusted enough to be let into the world of the REAL Hillary, informed enough about her vision and plans for America to believe their lives will be made better if she is elected president, and inspired enough to make the metaphysical leap that is the heart of presidential politics and conclude that the first woman president would also be a good and potentially great president.
We live in an age of cynicism toward politics and distrust of politicians. The long-term polling summaries from Real Clear Politics reveal that the last two presidents, a Democrat and a Republican, suffered from low favorability that brought disasters for their parties in crucial congressional elections. The current Congress is disapproved of by a whopping 72 percent of the nation. More than 60 percent believe our nation is on the wrong track.
Americans want change. They don't want a new Hillary, a new Rand or a new Jeb. They want new policies, new thinking and new ways of doing political business.
Americans crave authenticity. They don't want poll-tested platitudes, focus-grouped slogans or consultant-designed calculations. Let Don Draper sell shampoo and deodorant on "Mad Men." A successful presidential candidate will sell an authentic understanding of who he or she is, and a bold program that will inform voters why their lives will be better four years from now if she is elected.
Hillary Clinton is one of the most extraordinarily experienced presidential candidates in generations. She was first lady during the enormously successful and fondly remembered Bill Clinton presidency -- those unnamed Clinton "friends" who suggest the Babe Ruth of American politics should be put under wraps are the political equivalent of village idiots.
Hillary Clinton was a United States senator. She was secretary of State. Every Republican candidate looks like Little League compared to that.
The great question about Clinton, which is widely shared and could ultimately derail her aspirations, is this: Clinton has conquered the barriers of sexism, but can she conquer the barriers of calculation, caution and cadres of consultants who appear to endlessly whisper in her ear to tell her who she is and what she stands for?
I have thought about writing a short story titled "My dream date with Hillary Clinton." In our dream date we are sitting at a corner table of the bar of the Ritz, sharing two bottles of Jack Daniels.
After a few toasts, when we are both a little tipsy and her guard is down, I ask: "What do you really believe in? What great unpopular cause will you risk your career to fight for, because you believe it is right? If you will truly fight for a fair economy, why don't you support a bill to bring back a portion of Glass-Steagall sponsored by the leader of Senate progressives, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and the 2008 GOP nominee for president, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.)? On the seismic issue of Iranian nuclear weapons, can't you do better than say you support diplomacy with Iran 'for now?' Don't you agree that leaders must lead?"
My warning to Hillary Clinton is this: I'll buy the Jack, you bring the dream, and we'll change the world.
Otherwise Clinton's 2016 could end like her 2008. Things happen for a reason.
The first words in John F. Kennedy's book Profiles in Courage quoted Ernest Hemingway about courage being grace under pressure. It will take courage for Clinton to think big, be bold, open up and trust the people the way Kennedy trusted them. She could tell the people how her presidency could lift their lives -- and ask them what they will do to lift our country.
This profile in courage is the surest path to the presidency in an age of political distrust.
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