• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 5:25am

Library releases 'style pointers' that helped soften Hillary Clinton's image

Documents offer insight into how Hillary Clinton went from being a divisive first lady to a popular politician who could yet lead America

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 02 March, 2014, 6:06am
UPDATED : Sunday, 02 March, 2014, 6:06am

In July 1999, Hillary Rodham Clinton trekked to upstate New York to join retiring senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan at his farm and launch her campaign to replace him. On the eve of the big kick-off, adviser Mandy Grunwald wrote her a memo offering "a few style pointers".

Keep your tone conversational, Grunwald wrote, "chatty, intimate, informal. Find moments for humour. Don't be defensive or raise your voice. For years, you said, 'My husband did X', but this moment is about you, so talk about what you've done. Be careful to 'be real'."

The Grunwald memo is part of a cache of confidential communications among Clinton and her political image makers released on Friday, detailing the machinations behind her evolution from political spouse to a leader in her own right. The secret memos open a rare window into the meticulous and intense efforts to manage Clinton's public image during her and Bill Clinton's tumultuous years in office.

They describe attempts to cultivate influential journalists who could become "fans" or "Clinton surrogates". They also detail a push to leverage the first lady's official travel and agenda to generate positive news media coverage, softening her image in the run-up to Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign.

The documents are part of nearly 4,000 pages of internal communications released by the Clinton Library, which also include new details about White House decisions on health policy and national security issues.

The records show that in 1993, Clinton said in a private meeting of Democratic lawmakers that a Republican proposal for an individual health insurance mandate - a general approach that she would later embrace - would send "shock waves" through the public. An adviser also worried in a 1994 memo that the administration was "over-promising" by telling people they would be able to pick the doctor and healthcare plan of their choice, an issue that has flared during the implementation of US President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.

Since her years as first lady, Clinton has served as a US senator from New York and as Obama's first secretary of state, both prominent positions that have dramatically remade her image. She is the leading contender to be the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, with strong approval ratings.

But during the 1990s, Clinton was a divisive figure - eliciting sharp criticism from Republicans who saw her as being too involved in policymaking. The new documents show that her handlers were keenly focused on shaping, and improving, her public image from early in her husband's administration.

In 1995, for example, Clinton's press secretary, Lisa Caputo, wrote that the Clintons' 20th wedding anniversary that year provided "a wonderful opportunity for Hillary" to bolster her political standing. She suggested throwing "a big party" and releasing a photo spread of the occasion for People magazine.

Clinton's advisers also looked for ways to use the first lady's official travels for political gain. In preparation for a 1995 women's conference in Beijing, Caputo briefed Clinton on the journalists travelling with her, describing which ones she considered "fans", "fair" or "aggressive". Caputo also wrote that the event would give Clinton "good political mileage"; to this day, Clinton regularly refers to the address she gave at the historic conference.

In 1999, as Clinton prepared to step out from her husband's shadow and face the New York press as a first-time candidate, Grunwald dashed off a memo with eight "style pointers".

"The press is obviously watching to see if they can make you uncomfortable or testy," she wrote. "Even on the annoying questions, give relaxed answers."

Grunwald reminded Clinton to try to steer the discussion to her message. "You have a tendency to answer just the question asked," she wrote. "That's good manners, but bad politics."


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