If you’re a “Hunger Games” fan, you probably saw “Mockingjay – Part 1” over the Thanksgiving weekend, the third of the four-part movie franchise starring Jennifer Lawrence as the revolutionary leader Katniss Everdeen. As Hillary Rodham Clinton’s inner circle now hunkers down to plot her probable presidential campaign, they would do well to memorize the script.
In the movie, Everdeen becomes the face of the populist revolution against the “Capitol” and its control over the fictional nation’s economic and social infrastructure. In the 2016 presidential race, it is possible for Clinton to become the face of another bottoms-up economic revolution, one that makes history by forcing a dysfunctional and out-of-date government to do something about expanding the middle class. This revolution requires government to see the economy through the lens of women, which has never been done before.
Clinton is the right leader for this campaign at the right time. Recognizing the central economic role of women and girls has been a through line of her work for 40 years, as a young attorney, first lady, United States senator and secretary of state, where she championed an unprecedented number of programs to advance women’s entrepreneurship and empowerment.
But there is nothing inevitable about this plot. No serious political operative or casual observer or hopeful friend thinks Clinton is going to have an easy time being elected president.
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Her vulnerability lies in appearing inauthentic and unconnected to the very people she can help most. These are anxious voters far removed from Washington politics, marching to and from work, juggling child care and elder care, just trying to make ends meet. How can she let them know she understands what their life is really like when she’s lived most of the last 30 years in a celebrity bubble?
Clinton’s global iconic status has unfortunate consequences for a presidential candidate running on issues of fairness and economic mobility. Clinton cannot truly be connected to most people, and people cannot get traction with her, when they are separated by the motorcades, rope lines, security detail and staff surrounding her.
Clinton is tightly scripted and scheduled, with few opportunities to live like people whose vote she needs, people who grocery shop, drive cars and exercise with friends. In the bubble, there are handlers everywhere, pushing elevator buttons, handing you breath mints, whispering supporters’ names into your ear before meticulously organized “meet and greets” with “real people.” I know. I’ve done this duty hundreds of times as an inside-the-bubble staffer.
While a lot of Clinton’s handling and separation is necessary and inevitable, it comes at a cost, especially to her. It deprives her of the connections to people who nourish her emotional memory bank and who will introduce her to stories that matter, because they illustrate the policy changes she speaks to. Without this sustenance, candidates become automated, less authentic and less appealing to voters. Voters stay home.
Confronting this problem of inauthenticity is where Everdeen and her team help Clinton most.
“Think of those incidents when Katniss Everdeen genuinely moved you … made you feel something real,” instructed the revolution’s tortured campaign consultant, played by Woody Harrelson. “You’ll see that it was when no one told her what to do. She was unscripted.”
When did Clinton make you feel something real? How about the moment in New Hampshire when she teared up at a local diner after the grueling Iowa caucuses she lost? Or the pure delight of looking into her infant granddaughter’s eyes?
These unscripted moments gave us a genuine view – and they are the moments that matter most to voters. It is no coincidence that Clinton came from behind to win the New Hampshire primary.
To lead the revolution she is so capable of leading, she must, like the Mockingjay, look for opportunities of spontaneity. There’s a risk mistakes are made in unscripted moments – “we were broke after we left the White House” comes to mind – but they are mostly avoidable when caution is exercised.
And that is now her greatest challenge: to get into the field and be with the people who form the storyline of her narrative about women and America’s economy. Clinton’s folks should figure out how to use this time to allow her to go back to a stripped-down version of her life. How can she make a few anonymous visits to locations where men and women are living middle-class lives, being with them as they head to work at a minimum-wage job as caretakers in hospitals, waitresses or line mechanics?
It might take ingenuity and discreet planning to get someone as recognizable as the pope into normal life settings, but it might be one of the campaign’s most important and fun assignments. Think of the decoys and disguises. It is all about seizing the opportunity to let Hillary return to Hillary.
Clinton, with her emotions recharged, will speak to fairness with renewed hunger and authenticity. Like the impassioned Jennifer Lawrence, when Clinton says “join the fight,” Americans likely will.
Karen Skelton is founder of Skelton Strategies. She is an Emmy nominee, the former CEO of The Shriver Report, a political adviser in the Clinton White House and a staffer on five presidential campaigns.