At Home With Hillary

Political ads dissected and explained.
June 2 2000 3:00 AM

At Home With Hillary

The Hillary Clinton spot discussed here was produced by Devito/Verdi, with Mandy Grunwald and Mark Penn. Click for a transcript of the ad.

Advertisement

To: Jacob Weisberg

From: William Saletan

The first thing that's striking about this ad is the tense. Most ads are delivered in the present tense to convey action Hillary Vid ("I'm campaigning to make a difference for people") or in the future tense to convey promise ("I'll make a difference for people"). This ad begins in the past tense and, in so doing, pointedly refers to the viewer as well as the candidate: "When I started this campaign, I'm not sure I knew quite what to expect, and you probably didn't either. But I've tried to stay focused on our common mission."

Why the past tense and the joint references? Because Hillary Clinton needs to erase the impression that she's a carpetbagger. The central problem with her candidacy is that her past is in Illinois, Arkansas, and Washington, D.C. She needs to invent a past in New York. What she's doing in this ad, therefore, is telling the viewer the story of their courtship. She's using the past tense to stretch out the sensation of time, recalling the day long ago when two strangers met ("I'm not sure I knew quite what to expect, and you probably didn't either") and suggesting, through the ad's warm setting, music, and tone of voice, that the relationship has deepened to intimacy. Please, don't call her Mrs. Clinton. As the on-screen logo insists, just call her "Hillary."

The second charge she faces is that she's arrogant. To soften that impression, she repeatedly confesses the limits of her knowledge and power. She's "not sure." She didn't "know quite what to expect." She hopes "you'll give me that chance." For a woman thick-skinned enough to have endured multiple investigations, high-profile serial adultery, and her husband's impeachment, her demeanor in this ad is, to say the least, remarkably shy. It's even more remarkable when you remember that as she delivers her words, she's not gazing vulnerably and entreatingly into the eyes of a human being. She's gazing vulnerably and entreatingly into the lens of a camera.

Her third problem is that her negative rating is high. Too many New Yorkers have already decided they don't like her. She needs to make some of them reconsider. So she diverts their attention from personality to issues ("But I've tried to stay focused on our common mission—making a difference for people" on education and health care) and asks them to set aside their distrust for the sake of practical achievements ("If we reach past our divisions, there's so much we can do working together").

I guess Hillary isn't the witch I thought she was. She seems so warm and honest, and I love what she's done with her living room. I feel almost as though I'm sitting across the coffee table from her, with nothing between us but a tray of cookies and tea.

To: William Saletan

From: Jacob Weisberg

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Right to Run

If you can vote, you should be able to run for public office—any office.

Move Aside, Oxford Comma, the New Battle Is Over Single or Double Quotes

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Ben Bradlee’s Fascinating Relationship With JFK

Culturebox

The Simpsons World App Is Finally Here

I feel like a kid in some kind of store.

Technology

Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 11:06 AM The Right to Run If you can vote, you should be able to run for public office—any office.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
  Life
Outward
Oct. 22 2014 10:37 AM Judge Upholds Puerto Rico’s Gay Marriage Ban in a Comically Inane Opinion
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 10:00 AM On the Internet, Men Are Called Names. Women Are Stalked and Sexually Harassed.
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 22 2014 6:00 AM Why It’s OK to Ask People What They Do David Plotz talks to two junior staffers about the lessons of Working.
  Arts
Behold
Oct. 22 2014 11:04 AM Do All U.S. Presidents Look the Same? What About Japan’s Prime Ministers?
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 22 2014 10:29 AM Apple TV Could Still Work Here’s how Apple can fix its living-room product.
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 22 2014 11:30 AM Where Does Ebola Hide? My nerve-wracking research with shrieking bats.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.