As Hillary Clinton ponders whether once again to seek the presidency, she might consider what if any damage her imperious demands during lucrative public appearances have done to her image as a member of a party that considers itself synonymous with populism, whether accurately or not.
Louis Howe, the genius behind Franklin Roosevelt’s early political success, once asked his boss why he was a Democrat and was told that he wanted to belong to a party of the people.
“What do you know about the people?” Howe said. “You’re a Roosevelt.”
Although Clinton’s pedigree doesn’t measure up to that of the patrician Roosevelt, recently disclosed demands at one of her speeches shortly after resigning as secretary of state have an overtone that is nothing short of queenly. They further the credibility of her reputation for imperiousness from the fee she charged to the trappings that her representatives imposed on the University of California, Los Angeles, a public institution.
The Washington Post, using the Freedom of Information Act, obtained the emails and other documents between the Harry Walker Agency and the school in preparation for her appearance where she was paid $300,000 for a 30-minute speech on March 5. When school officials asked, for instance, for the university rate, they were told that the charge was the university rate.
In all fairness to Clinton, some of the demands might have come from overzealousness by representatives of the Walker Agency, which The Post said exerted considerable control over the appearance. But critics note that she always is in charge, and those close to her concede she is aware of most details. Whatever, the impression left is hardly what one running for office would want, especially a candidate who is likely to fashion a campaign pitched to a less affluent demographic. In fact, she has been described as practically Elizabethan, an allegation that may be a bit exaggerated but not much.
Among the nothing-left-to-chance items dictated by her representatives were the design of the chairs she and a moderator would use in a question-and-answer session; the kind of podium and microphone she would use (the one the university planned was rejected, forcing the school to seek another and rent a new university seal to fit); and the kind of food and drink in the staging room, including humus and fruit and coffee, tea, diet ginger ale and lots of bottled water with regulated temperature. The room was to contain a computer, a printer and a scanner, which UCLA had to purchase.
The list of demands is too long to cover in a column of limited space, but several stand out as more haughty than others, including the fact that her agents required that the VIPs in groups or couples be ready for pictures before she arrived so that she would not have to wait. You must be kidding — this from a woman who as first lady and with her president husband rarely did anything without keeping people waiting. Only 50 clicks were allowed, The Post reported.
Another concern was the university’s decision to award her the UCLA Medal after her Luskin lecture. They were told that it should not be hung around her neck as is tradition but presented to her in its box. Heaven forbid that the hair or person of her majesty be disrupted.
The contract for the speech, by the way, gave Clinton the right to control any promotional materials. Showing her magnanimity, Clinton allowed the speech to be videoed but only for archival purposes. The institution was afforded the privilege of posting two minutes of highlights on YouTube.
Few people seem more experience-qualified to ascend to the presidency and in this case finally break the glass ceiling that has prevented the occupancy of the Oval Office by a woman. A little bit of haughtiness in one seeking the most important office in the world is not a bad thing. It is a job that requires a considerable amount of ego. But overdoing it is a political liability.
I once stood with Texas Gov. Ann Richards at a podium we were to share with President George H.W. Bush and found it utterly unacceptable for anyone but him. Richards, hardly one accused of imperiousness, said to the White House aide standing with us. “Change it,” and he did immediately. Clinton should take a lesson.
Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.