Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Clinton as Communicator, from Wellesley to Campaign Trail

Newspaper article Charleston Gazette Mail

Clinton as Communicator, from Wellesley to Campaign Trail

Article excerpt

NEW YORK - Hillary Clinton has said it herself: She's not the most naturally gifted public communicator. "I am not a natural politician, in case you haven't noticed, like my husband or President Obama, she said in March.

Yet her first public speech was a star-making one, landing her in a Life magazine write-up at the tender age of 21. She was a senior at Wellesley, the first student chosen to address a commencement there. Unhappy with the words of the U.S. senator invited to speak before her, she parried with an unplanned rebuke, before launching into her prepared remarks. It was unscripted and rather audacious - so audacious, in fact, that the president of Wellesley felt compelled to apologize to the senator.

"Courtesy is not one of the stronger virtues of the young, wrote Ruth Adams, in a letter recently unearthed by The Washington Post. "Scoring debater's points seems, on occasion, to have higher standing.

Nearly 50 years later, Clinton is facing the most important debates of her life as she squares off against Donald Trump beginning tonight - three high-stakes contests that could set the momentum for the remainder of the presidential campaign.

What kind of communicator has she become in those years since Wellesley, the last 30 or so in the public eye? That first speech is significant, says Kathleen Hall Jamieson, of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center, because it shows how even a college-age Clinton was able to think on her feet and jump on the moment - a key asset in a debate.

Clinton also showed, and has honed for years, a propensity to engage the other side, to argue and counter-argue like a lawyer, Jamieson said - not surprising, since her next stop after Wellesley was a law degree at Yale.

But along with those and other obvious strengths - such as the depth of her preparation - Clinton can sound scripted, especially in contrast to her husband, a gifted empathizer. "I feel your pain' - that was a joke line about Bill Clinton, but some people have to work harder at it than others, Jamieson said. "It was more natural for Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton than it is for Hillary Clinton.

She's also known to be guarded. "People who support her say she is thoughtful, said Jamieson. "Those who oppose her say she is hiding something. But she adds that there's good historical reason for Clinton to watch her words.

"She's been burned by statements that were taken to mean something she didn't necessarily intend, like her famous 1992 cookies and teas' remark, which Jamieson said was "taken egregiously out of context.

Then, of course, there's the persistent description of Clinton "lecturing - or worse, "yelling. Many counter that this particular description is inextricably wound up in gender perceptions. (One commentator, Mark Rudov, said on Fox News in 2008 that when candidate Obama spoke, "Men hear, Take off for the future,' and when Hillary Clinton speaks, men hear, Take out the garbage. …

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