Clinton argues like a lawyer, can be scripted, guarded

Jocelyn Noveck
Associated Press

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.

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

Clinton has honed for years a propensity to engage the other side, to argue and counter-argue like a lawyer, Jamieson says — not surprising, since she received a law degree from 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 says. “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,” says Jamieson. “Those who oppose her say she is hiding something. But she adds that there’s good l 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 says was “taken egregiously out of context.”

Deborah Tannen, professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, says Clinton — like other women in authority — is subject to a “double bind,” meaning whatever she does is going to violate either expectations for how a woman should speak, or how a leader should. In other words, appearing tough and empathetic at the same time is a challenge.

Biographer Gail Sheehy says that during Clinton’s 2008 presidential race, her campaign emphasized the toughness, so that she would be taken seriously — especially by the military — as a potential commander in chief.

“She won that battle,” Sheehy says, “but in the process it obscured her nurturing qualities — her ability to understand and relate to people who are vulnerable.”