Hillary Clinton's opening message: it's not about me, it's about you. The now-official presidential candidate launched her second campaign for the presidency with a two-minute, 18-second video featuring Americans of all stripes talking about their hopes for the future — and, in a subtle homage to the Ready for Hillary crowd, what they're getting ready to do.
"I'm getting ready to do something, too. I'm running for president," Clinton says toward the end of the video. "Everyday Americans need a champion. I want to be that champion."
It's a tacit acknowledgment of the central tension of her narrative: how can someone who has lived at the White House and a pair of mansions, traveled on private jets, and rubbed elbows with the likes of Queen Elizabeth and an Excel-busting list of financial titans present herself as a woman of the people, a champion of the underdog, and an avatar of middle-class strength?
The early answer is that she'll try to put the faces and voices of other Americans out front. Clinton doesn't appear in the video until just after the two-minute mark. A middle-aged woman works on her garden; a mom talks about moving as her daughter is about to start kindergarten. A man speaks, in Spanish, about starting a new business with his brother. A black family discusses preparations for a new baby. A young Asian woman reveals apprehension about looking for a job after college. A gay couple holds hands. You get the picture, or you can get the pictures, here.
What Clinton accomplishes is a contrast from the traditional alpha-male-style campaign-launch speech, the I'm-going-to-tell-you-how-it-is construct of so many candidates before her. There was no podium, no adoring crowd, no theater in the round at Liberty University.
Instead, the video suits a new kind of campaign — and certainly a new kind of campaign for Clinton — that emphasizes the needs and aspirations of voters. Rather than laying out her own vision, which she's struggled with in the past, she's implicitly promising to realize their shared vision. Tellingly absent from the video is a staple of campaign ads: any hint of a testimonial for Clinton. The people in it talked about themselves, not about her. Perhaps this is the feminine version of the male-dominated enterprise of running for president: as a listener, an organizer of principles, and a fighter for her constituents. All done without calling attention to herself.
Clinton is expected to drive from New York to Iowa, the first-in-the-nation caucus state, to kick off a listening tour — a plan teased by campaign chairman John Podesta's email to Clinton alumni noting that she would be "hitting the road" in the coming days. That, too, has the feel of a much more grounded Clinton, and it avoids the obvious criticism that would accompany a private-jet flight to Des Moines.
There's plenty in Clinton's background to suggest that she's concerned about the have-nots. Her first job in the federal government was on the board of the Legal Services Corporation, which provides legal help to people who can't afford it. As first lady, she took the blunt-force trauma of trying to develop and sell her husband's failed effort to expand health insurance to those who didn't have it, and she was a force in the successful effort to provide coverage for children through CHIP. Her family's foundation — for all the criticism — does get donors to underwrite projects in underserved parts of the world, and she's launched several institutions that seek to improve the status and participation of women and girls around the world.
That said, there's also plenty to suggest she'll have trouble persuading Americans that she's somehow transformed from the win-for-me candidate of 2008 to a win-for-us candidate in 2016. Republicans — and the media — won't let anyone forget about Clinton's personal wealth, the less-than-savory characters and countries she's raised money from, the Clinton rules (one set for them, another for everyone else), or how long she's been inside the Beltway.
".@HillaryClinton has the same Washington-knows-best mentality people around the country are looking to move beyond," Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a potential 2016 rival, tweeted after the release of her video.
It's hard to argue, though, that the upbeat video, backed by a snappy soundtrack, is not a step in the right direction for a candidate trying to connect with what she calls "everyday Americans." It certainly beats the shallow, self-absorbed start to her last campaign.