We had a little campaign drama yesterday as a disturbed man (who claimed he had a bomb) took hostages in the Rochester, New Hampshire, headquarters of the Hillary Clinton campaign. Over a period of several hours, all of the hostages were released. And eventually the hostage-taker, Lee Eisenberg, surrendered without incident (but not before calling CNN ... maybe he had a debate question?).
When the incident began, Hillary Clinton was in the Washington area. She cancelled her campaign schedule for the day and immediately travelled to New Hampshire, where she met with law enforcment and the families of the hostages. Clinton made at least two public statements during the day, and she held a news conference (video) after the ordeal ended. Clinton's actions were certainly appropriate for the incident, and her statements were sober and direct. But in the end, her actions were no different than what any other politician or candidate would have done.
Within hours, though, Clinton was being touted for her political brilliance in taking "advantage of the opportunity she had unexpectedly been handed."
An article by David Paul Kuhn ("Clinton seizes opportunity after crisis") appeared on Politico.com barely seven hours after the incident ended (date-stamped today at 12:56 AM EST). Rather than simply credit Clinton for the appropriateness of her actions, the article found her to be "presidential" (employing the expert commentary of Larry Sabato).
In her New Hampshire press conference, she stood before a column of police in green and tan uniforms. She talked of meeting with hostages. She mentioned that she spoke to the state’s governor about eight minutes after the incident began.
The scene was one of a woman in charge.
“It looked and sounded presidential,” said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics. “This was an instance of the White House experience of this campaign. They knew how to handle this.”
Another commentator saw the incident as a "dress rehearsal" for a Clinton presidency, in a section of the article appearing under a boldface heading titled "Looking the part."
Friday presented Clinton with a moment to look the part of president.
“You had one of these breaking news stories ... and so everybody was glued to the set,” said Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “She got on TV and provided a sense of closure and executive cool. It is like how Giuliani used television during his crisis.
“There was a sense that this was a dress rehearsal of how she was going to deal with... crisis as president,” Thompson added.
Thompson also played the "gender card" on Clinton's behalf.
In her two public appearances after the hostages were freed, she was stern, but she also spoke of the concerns she felt as a mother, admitting to a “horrible sense of bewilderment” and “outrage.”
Her decision to express her personal anxieties offered a window into how she may veer into territory men avoid — personal feelings during a possible public tragedy.
And in the event you were questioning Clinton's sincerity, the author and Sabato remind us this was a spontaneous event.
Clinton’s campaign has long been dogged by key questions: is she authentic, does she genuinely have the experience to be president, and is the country ready for a woman as commander in chief — especially during wartime.
[and earlier in the article]
That the crisis was outside Clinton's control gave it a rare quality in this era of hyper-controlled politicking, Sabato added.
“What’s most important about it is that it’s not contrived. It’s a real event and that distinguishes it from 99 percent of what happens in the campaign season.”
So in the end, this author has propped up Hillary Clinton as: 1) being presidential, 2) looking the part, 3) having a unique perspective as a woman, and 4) not being contrived, all because she travelled to New Hampshire and made a couple statements.
This article is certain to be a preview of upcoming events for the presidential campaign. The media will glean "presidential" qualities from the actions (significant and otherwise) of its favorite candidates.