Opinion: Hillary and Bill Clinton in defeat and victory: When pictures tell the story

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Just look at his face!

Doesn’t William Jefferson Clinton look absolutely delighted with his wife’s Democratic presidential primary victory in Indiana?

Sure the Clinton campaign (Hillary’s) had hoped to do much better in North Carolina. It is difficult to put a happy face on a 14-point thumping down there by Sen. Barack Obama. But at least she tried -- ‘Thank you, Indiana!’ -- even though Hillary didn’t know when she gave her victory speech how close her opponent would come by night’s end (1%) to pulling out a win in the Hoosier State as well.

Bill Clinton has arguably been helpful to his wife’s now 15-month White House effort. The crowds are supposed to love him. And many do. But he’s often stepped on her message, creating unwanted news of his own to detract from hers. In South Carolina, his controversial racial comments may well have cost her badly in that state’s primary, and they might have hurt her again Tuesday in next-door North Carolina, where 9 out of 10 blacks voted against the wife of the man so popular with African Americans that he was once called the first black president. Instead, they voted for the man who may well be the first black president.

Professional political packagers often mute the sound on TV to just watch the real message seeping out from the moving pictures on screen. President Ronald Reagan’s communications crew once sincerely thanked CBS correspondent Leslie Stahl for a devastatingly critical news report she’d done on his senior citizen programs because the pictures showed Reagan talking amiably with numerous fellow seniors.

Last night, as the Clinton campaign did after her disappointing third-place finish in the Iowa caucuses, the senator’s political packagers let her down by allowing her husband (and daughter) onstage with her.


To be sure, by this point in virtually any presidential campaign, it is difficult for all but the most intimate staff to tell a candidate what he/she should do, so sold on themselves have the candidates become by hundreds of adoring crowds and the automatic subservience of virtually everyone around them. It is particularly hard to say ‘No!’ to an ex-president and an ex-first lady who both think she should be president.

But Bill’s glum puss, standing there right behind her, competing for the eyes of every television viewer everywhere, throughout the candidate’s remarks visibly contradicted virtually every hopeful, positive word she said. As a veteran and successful campaigner for himself, he could know better.

It was the same after her Iowa defeat. (See photo below) There she was onstage before an immense banner -- ‘READY for Change!’ -- and an enthusiastic crowd of fans who, however, went largely unseen on TV in the darkness in front of the stage.

And as millions of Americans at home watched the one-time frontrunner valiantly argue her case, what did everyone actually see? About two dozen glum faces of disappointed campaign workers surrounding her, no doubt invited there to share the spotlight and offer moral support.

But they looked more like an oversized grieving family at a memorial service (in fact, look how many are wearing black), including a whole pack of faces familiar from the 1990s -- Bill and Chelsea and, directly by Clinton’s right elbow, Madeline Albright!

This is READY for change? Living reminders of the turbulent Clinton past. While running against the fresh face and rhetoric of the triumphant Obama?

By the next week in New Hampshire, Hillary Clinton or her communications advisors had learned their lesson. Click on Read More below to see that photo.

Ah, now this is much better, isn’t it? You can almost feel the vibrancy looking at this picture where the candidate is properly the sole focus onstage. Her husband and daughter offered congratulatory public hugs there before retreating into the crowd.

In New Hampshire, the victorious candidate was completely surrounded, on-camera, by adoring supporters clapping and waving signs visible to the vast audience at home that heard her say, ‘Thank you, New Hampshire.’ And then she declared, ‘Over the last week, I have listened to you and in the process I found my own voice.’

Which images do you find more credible?

— Andrew Malcolm

Top photo: Hillary Clinton in Indiana (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)