Here’s what we learned about Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential campaign from the brief video she used to announce -- surprise! -- that she's running: not much.
The video was two minutes and 18 seconds long, but Clinton’s words used only 45 seconds of that -- and her face was on screen for only about five of those seconds.
Instead of the candidate, most of the video was a collage of likable-looking Americans planning bright personal futures: a young couple expecting their first child, a middle-aged woman planning her retirement, an adorable boy of about 6 announcing, “I’m going to be in a play and I’m going to be in a fish costume!”
Diverse, too: A multiracial couple, two gay men planning their wedding, Americans of every shape and color. Nine women got speaking parts (including Clinton); only seven men did. Looks pretty much like the Democratic Party electorate!
Clinton uttered all of 92 words. “I’m getting ready to do something too,” she said. “I’m running for president. Americans have fought their way back from tough economic times, but the deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top. Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion -- so you can do more than just get by, you can get ahead and stay ahead. Because when families are strong, America is strong. So I’m hitting the road to earn your vote, because it’s your time. And I hope you’ll join me on this journey.”
What’s all that supposed to mean?
First, as my colleagues Evan Halper and David Lauter pointed out, Clinton’s campaign wants to emphasize the future, not the past. Polls show that one of her weakest points is that many voters think of her as yesterday’s candidate. In her video, she didn’t even mention the fact that she’s held high office before -- or that she’s been married for 39 years to what's-his-name.
Second, she’s hoping to channel middle-class frustration with the economy without trashing President Obama’s record. That means casting herself as “a champion” who will help hard-working people “get ahead and stay ahead” -- the Suze Orman of American politics.
But she’s still a little worried about a challenge from the left. The only fragment of actual policy in her statement was this 12-word sentence: “The deck is still stacked in favor of those at the top.” Sound a little like Elizabeth Warren? Good. It was supposed to.
Finally, Clinton and her advisors are still worried about overexposure. Most presidential candidates, anxious to introduce themselves to voters, launch their campaigns with speeches that run half an hour or longer, replete with gauzy biographical anecdotes and the lift of a driving dream.
Clinton needs no such introduction. Instead, she seems to be trying to change the subject from herself to us. “It’s your time,” she said -- meaning, let’s make this campaign about you, not me.
Good luck with that. Campaigns are for candidates to tell voters where they’d take the country, and how they’d do it. Clinton’s announcement didn’t even come close. She told us that she’s running, that she’s a Democrat and (implicitly) that she favors of diversity and a dose of economic populism -- but that’s about all.
Her video was a brilliant way to get millions of people to watch a two-minute campaign ad. But she’s still holding us at arm’s length -- still postponing the hard work of telling voters what she wants to do and how she plans to do it.