Most of us get only one chance to make a first impression. But Hillary Clinton gets as many chances as she wants.
She has invented herself almost as many times as Thomas Edison tried to invent the light bulb.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. America is a land of reinvention. Our forefathers and foremothers came here to build fresh, new lives, unfettered by the past.
So as Hillary, as her campaign refers to her, officially runs for president (again), she is allowed to adopt a new persona (again).
Now, as “Saturday Night Live” deftly satirized over the weekend, she needs to be “personal,” “intimate,” “natural” and “hilarious.”
And Hillary was all of these things Sunday. Not in real life, of course, but in a video — a video put together in advance and tweaked and massaged for days.
That Hillary’s presidential announcement video could be mistaken for a drug commercial was no accident.
Americans want quick fixes: better schools, better jobs, better housing, a secure retirement, a level playing field and equal opportunities for all.
“Everyday Americans need a champion, and I want to be that champion,” Hillary says in the video, which features everyday Americans of all ethnicities, colors and creeds.
Men hold hands and plan their marriages. A senior citizen grows tomatoes. Two brothers tell us in Spanish that they are starting a business. A factory worker looks forward to a new job.
“When families are strong, America is strong,” Hillary tells us. “So I’m hitting the road to earn your vote, because it’s your time.”
At the end, I expected to see a couple in separate bathtubs holding hands.
Or maybe a blue pill with the voice-over: “Hillary-D, take only as directed during your Democratic caucus or primary. Side effects may include increased prosperity, national security and unbridled joy.”
The real ad is so good — which is to say deftly exploitive — it even has a moment of pure humor, when a man says, “But most importantly, we really just want to teach our dog to quit eating the trash.” (Shot of dog eating the trash.)
C’mon, that’s funny. Just as Hillary is funny, right?
Well, not so fast there. Ads are not real life. They are how we wish real life to be.
During the ad, Hillary is shown listening and nodding as ordinary voters talk to her. Which is the point. This time around, the campaign is not about Hillary. It is about us! The American voter!
Hillary is merely our champion, and she desperately needs to hear our ideas, thoughts and viewpoints so she can provide what we need.
That is why she is going on a “listening tour” of key caucus and primary states. Listening tours are a shopworn idea and also a pretty cynical one. The candidate must pretend that there are some things she does not know.
What does Hillary not already know, however? Hillary is ferociously well-briefed for every event. But how do you brief somebody to listen?
And “humble” can be hard to practice when you have spent your adult life being “experienced.”
If she was so ready to answer “the 3 a.m. phone call” and save the world eight years ago, what is she unprepared for now?
No matter. Running for president is a performance, and this time, Hillary is going to master the performance. People will talk to her, and she will nod and tell a scripted joke, and that will get on local TV.
And only then will she be ready to deliver the “big” speech, which is why she started her campaign on video and not in front of a real crowd of real people.
Her campaign has worked enormously hard to lower expectations about Hillary’s ability to perform in person. She must learn and prepare, her handlers say.
Oh, puh-leeze. Gimme a break. Hillary Clinton has been making darn good “big” speeches for years. For another Democrat to beat her in Iowa would take a miracle.
Martin O’Malley or Jim Webb could catch fire there on a personal level. Iowans often admire scrappy candidates. But what they lack is what Barack Obama had in 2008: millions and millions of dollars and an experienced campaign team that knows how to build the ground game that is essential to winning in Iowa’s arcane caucus process.
There are no absolute guarantees, however. And real listening is hard to learn.
On Jan. 26, 2007, Hillary began her previous listening tour in Iowa.
At a town hall meeting in a high school gym in Des Moines, a man who identified himself as a Gulf War veteran asked her whether the surge of new troops to Iraq was “going to be enough.”
Instead of answering, Hillary replied with “thanks so much for your service” and then talked about how she visits military hospitals and believes that America needs to provide good medical care for its veterans.
That was not what he asked.
In the one-hour meeting, Hillary did not mention Iraq a single time. She mentioned ethanol twice.
But today the Iraq War is ancient history (she hopes), and all she has to do is appear to be humble and hilarious, knowledgeable yet not all-knowing.
Last time, before she went to that town hall meeting, she went to Democratic state headquarters to meet with party activists. When asked about the war there, she said, “There are no do-overs in life.”
Oh, but there are. There have to be. Hillary Clinton’s future depends on it.
Roger Simon is Politico’s chief political columnist. His new e-book, “Reckoning: Campaign 2012 and the Fight for the Soul of America,” can be found on Amazon.com, BN.com and iTunes.