06/13/2014 04:51 pm ET Updated Jun 13, 2014

Clinton Looks A Little Rusty On Her 'Hard Choices,' Avoidable Errors Tour

Hillary Clinton has a book out. It's called Hard Choices. It's about hard choices. Lots and lots of hard choices. I did not read this book. Easy choice, really.

Hillary Clinton should not take it personally that I didn't read this book. (Seriously, she should work hard at not taking it personally.) I didn't read this book because it's part of a sub-genre of literature called "I'm thinking about running for president, guess I should write a book," and I don't read those books as a general rule. I didn't read Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope and I didn't read Mitt Romney's No Apology. I passed on all of John McCain's books, even the ones I suspected were pretty good. Someone gave me John Edwards' book a while back and I didn't read it. (Not gonna read it now, either!) Even Tim Pawlenty wrote a book! I think it's titled, I'm Pretty Cavalier About The Brief Time We All Have Together on This Planet.

There are a lot of reasons to not read these books. First of all, some other reporter without much of a life will do it for me. Second, these books don't actually end up mattering in the subsequent elections. In 2012, Romney's No Apology mattered only briefly because of changes to the text between its hardcover debut and its paperback release.

But the most compelling reason to not read these books is because their authors really don't want to write them in the first place. The authors are just ticking off a box on the list of "Things I have to do to become president." As far as those boxes go, writing a book is pretty inoffensive, except maybe to trees. As Salon's Alex Pareene pointed out, two things many Republicans have to do to run for president are to start doubting that evolution is real and to get "openly hostile to climate science." (The trees take this even harder, according to the trees I've talked to.)

So no, Hillary Clinton in all likelihood didn't really want to write Hard Choices. (And I suppose if you want to get technical about it, she didn't.) But that's beside the point, because Hard Choices doesn't actually exist as a piece of literature. It exists solely to serve as the animating circumstance for a preliminary tour of the political press. It's basically a preseason game for Clinton, allowing her to practice facing reporters on a more regular basis. (I realize this is something you probably already know.)

Hillary Clinton has a fairly tortured past with the media. And yes, this is according to the media, who will keep writing about it over and over again until someone places some other stimulus within range of their five senses. But they're not entirely wrong. And they're not wrong when they say Clinton is showing some rust. I don't know why she deserves to be "slammed" for this. That seems extreme! But whatever, the point is, the rust was showing Thursday, when Clinton had an exchange with NPR's Terry Gross about marriage equality that I would charitably characterize as "inexplicable."

Buzzfeed's Chris Geidner has the whole blow-by-blow, so go check that out. To make a long story short, Gross was interested in knowing how and why Clinton came to support, with full throat, marriage equality. Was it something that Clinton always believed in but didn't feel comfortable enunciating, or did she actually change her mind on the matter? As Gross asked, "So, just to clarify, just one more question on this -- would you say your view evolved since the '90s or that the American public evolved, allowing you to state your real view?"

That's a tough question. If you always supported same-sex marriage but didn't feel comfortable articulating it, that raises questions about courage. If you came to support same-sex marriage late, it's reasonable to wonder whether you regretted the period of time when you didn't. It's a hard choice! But it doesn't have to be a complicated choice. Unfortunately for Clinton, she spent seven minutes attempting to find a third way (or if you will, a Third Way) to answer the question. Gross ended up understandably confused, attested to that confusion, and then the whole exchange devolved into an unnecessary row.

Here's a pro tip. The best answer to this question is, of course, the truthful one. That said, if you need a "politically safe" answer, then you should go with, "Once I got to thinking about the issue, and considering other perspectives, I came to change my mind."

That might be hard for Clinton to admit, because during the period of time from not supporting marriage equality to supporting marriage equality, her husband signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law. But on the other hand, if you want to demonstrate a bit of the old "common touch," this is a fine way to answer the question because this is literally how millions of normal human beings came to support marriage equality: They were uncomfortable about it, maybe even against it, but they came to think about it more and eventually changed their minds. This is how Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) got there, and when he arrived, he did so extremely eloquently.

The good news, for Clinton, is that none of this is ultimately going to matter. Voters aren't tuning in to the 2016 preseason pageantry. The only people who care about this stuff, besides political reporters with little to do, are the people who operate within the "shadow primary" -- big political donors and influential political elites. And they're not seeing anything from Clinton that's going to create a stampede in the direction of, say, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley. The worst thing they're seeing is that Clinton needs to get some of that polish back before the stakes get high. From their perspective, this ersatz book tour for this ersatz book is serving a necessary purpose.

Clinton and her affiliated allies and assistants would probably benefit from hewing to that purpose with some amount of zeal before we enter the stage of the election when voters really are paying attention. Then, Clinton will have to be able to not commit unforced errors in interviews with NPR hosts. Media Matters will have to remember to not turn those unforced errors into two-day stories. Clinton spokesman Phillipe Reines is going to have to learn how to calm down and just let some stuff slide. (Like, even just let ONE thing slide.)

These are some easy choices, but hey, we're all a little rusty.

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Hillary Clinton