The WaPo has an interesting piece about Hillary Clinton’s speeches on the campaign trail that portrays Clinton the listener.
Early on in the campaign Clinton defined herself as a candidate who listens to the voters and she’s made a point of letting voters know in her speeches and her ads that she is listening and that the voters are not “invisible” to her. That was one of the big things that drew me to support her in this election.
It almost always comes when the audience least expects it: the moment Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton brings a roaring crowd to a hush with a heart-rending anecdote.
“I remember listening to a story about a young woman in a small town along the Ohio River, in Meigs County, who worked in a pizza parlor,” the Democratic presidential candidate said during a stop in Cleveland, beginning a particularly grim tale.
“She got pregnant, she started having problems. There’s no hospital left in Meigs County, so she had to go to a neighboring county. She showed up, and the hospital said, ‘You know, you’ve got to give us $100 before we can see you.’ She didn’t have $100,” Clinton said.
“So the young woman went back home,” she continued. “The next time she went back, she was in an ambulance. It turned out she lost the baby. She was airlifted to Columbus.”
She paused before concluding: “And after heroic efforts at the medical center, she died.” The audience, as always, gasped.
The story has become a staple of Clinton’s stump speech, a prime example of how, in a campaign year in which lofty phrases have taken center stage, she has rejected sweeping oratory — “just words,” as her campaign likes to accuse Democratic rival Barack Obama of offering — in favor of a dramatic speaking style all her own.
In hushed tones, sometimes with palpable sadness in her voice, Clinton tells dark, difficult anecdotes picked up on the campaign trail. They often relate to health matters, culled from her conversations with voters, and are designed to illustrate a policy point.
I have written here in the past that that is the appeal that Clinton has honed that plays well with women voters — because women have a tendency to feel as though no one is listening to them — especially the politicians in Washington.
Presidential candidates across the decades, from Ronald Reagan to Bill Clinton to George W. Bush, have honed the art of picking out stories to bolster a policy position in particularly human terms. Former senator John Edwards N.C.), who left the Democratic race this year, often cited the stories of people he defended as a trial lawyer. For all of his grandeur, Obama can turn serious as well; at least once, in an effort to demonstrate how fleeting life can be, he detoured from his speech to tell the story of a woman he had recently met who, moments later, found out that her child had been killed in a car accident.
For Clinton, the approach seems to bring together her best skills, especially her ability to listen to voters she meets. In speeches that sometimes wear on and sometimes derail into deadening policy, sharing bleak stories can focus the audience’s attention.
It also allows Clinton, who has only recently grown more comfortable talking about herself, to show that she understands how people live and how her policies would affect them.
Read the whole article — it’s a good piece that perhaps could have used a better title than “In Speeches, Clinton Often Veers to Dark Side.” But hey, I don’t expect much from the writer Anne Kornblut, who in February claimed Clinton was booed at a speech in Texas — and she was not. Regardless, it’s worth a read and Kornblut actually writes a decent report with the help of “Research editor Alice Crites.”