After watching Hillary Clinton debate Bernie Sanders one more time, we must sooner or later ask ourselves, what is actually going on in this woman's head? At a strictly intellectual level, she is polished and knowledgeable, highly skilled in the art of articulating policy positions. The transcript of her remarks must be impressive.
And yet in listening to her, one cannot fail to succumb to a case of Hillary Fatigue Syndrome. The impulse to turn off the TV when she is speaking, or at least to lower the volume, soon becomes intense. Evidently there is something non-verbal, something in her personal manner or style on stage that is painful to watch. What is that quality? What is its source?
The first question is more easily answered than the second. The non-verbal element that prompts one to turn away is her tone, the tone of her voice, as well as the larger attitude she projects from the stage. The tone of her voice is loud; it is monotonous; and it has embedded within it a sense of tension or stress, something rigid and conflicted, as if her voice is being forced at high pressure through a narrow tube.
From these characteristics, we intuitively infer Hillary's larger attitude: this is a woman, we sense, who is intensely driven but not fully aware of herself. Were she able to sense within herself the actual qualities she personifies, surely she would modify them; no one running for office wants to viscerally turn people away. Clinton is evidently unable to see or sense her own state of mind, a little bit like a robot programmed to perform skillfully, but with no awareness of itself.
People report that in small groups or private conversations, Hillary is more personable, relaxed, congenial. No doubt she has that side, under the right conditions. But on stage something else takes over. She becomes a one-trick pony, trying hard to project an image of strength; but rather than seeming strong, she seems strident.
Now for the more difficult question: What is the source of this attitude? What is actually going on in Hillary's head? No one can know for certain what is happening within someone else, but after watching Clinton for a while, certain inferences seem warranted, or even irresistible.
Here is a woman who is profoundly scripted. She has been running for the presidency for ten solid years: from the run-up to the 2008 election, all through her tenure as Secretary of State, as well as ever since. She has absorbed a mega-ton of advice regarding what attitude she should project, especially because it is known within her camp that she does not connect well with many voters. Of one thing we may be certain: whatever she projects represents her concept of what she should project. She is trying with all her might not just to say something but to be something, or at least to appear to be something. She is trying to shape who she is as much as she is trying to shape her policy positions.
And so that is what we see at a gut level when we watch her on TV: here is a woman who is trying very hard to be, or appear to be, a certain type or quality of human being: capable, tough, a commander-in-chief.
But no one wants a leader who is trying to be anything in particular. One wants a leader who is strong, not one who is trying to be strong, or trying to appear strong. If Clinton were in fact what she is trying to project, she would not have to try so hard to project it. That is the non-verbal verdict we feel in watching her on stage. That is the take-away message no matter what is actually said in the debates.