It’s taken a career in the spotlight, but Hillary Clinton finally seems to be comfortable with her age and her gender.
Hillary Rodham Clinton has always consciously chosen her identities. She’s been a good wife in pink, defending her First Family’s “zone of privacy.” She’s been a grudging bureaucrat in grey, holding off the press with legalese over her tech travails. She’s been a prolific public speaker, earning a pretty penny from everyone from Goldman Sachs to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.
“I find that my life consists of different, sometimes paradoxical parts,” she wrote in 1995, and it’s always been true. Even as far back as her college years at Wellesley, she wrote to her high school pen pal, who showed me the letters, “Since Xmas vacation, I’ve gone through three and a half metamorphoses. … So far, I’ve used alienated academic, involved pseudo-hippie, educational and social reformer and one-half of withdrawn simplicity.”
But now, at 67, Clinton finally appears to be beyond carefully constructing her identities or letting her advisers to design the persona she presents. And it’s going to help her win what she wants most.
In 2008, Clinton allowed her husband and her bullying, sexist chief strategist, Mark Penn, to run her as an alpha male commander-in-chief. From the start of the presidential campaign, she came across as brittle and overbearing. No wonder voters sensed an authenticity problem. This time, though, Clinton is not running as a made-over man. She is in a new stage of life, having become the kickass grandma with a cackle and a fierce new brand of feminism. Sure, as an older woman she is vulnerable to, well, age—but she’s also more genuinely nurturing than ever, and personally committed to protecting the young from erosion of the American dream. She’s gentler; she’s bolder. The hell with losing weight. Let her new image consultant worry about her hair, which is shorter, blonder, simpler. “When you’re in the spotlight as a woman,” she told Diane Sawyer last year, “you get a little worried about, ‘Okay, you know, people over on this side are loving what I’m wearing, looking like, saying. And people over on this side aren’t.’ … I’m done with that. I mean, I’m just done.”
For the first time Hillary seems comfortable in her own skin—not just with her age but also with her gender.
Her newfound confidence was on full display at her campaign kickoff on Roosevelt Island on Saturday, where she turned the age issue on its head, quipping, “I may not be the youngest person running for president. But I will be the youngest woman president.” The crowd erupted.
“And the first grandmother as well.”
She rooted her own life story in lessons she learned from a mother who was abandoned by her parents and forced as a child to work as a housemaid. Years later, Clinton asked her mother how she kept going: A simple answer—the kindness of some people who believed she mattered.
And, thus, after 40 years in public life, fighting introspection and hiding her personal feelings behind a zone of privacy, Hillary has finally found the throughline that answers the crucial question: Why run for president?
She wants to be America’s grandmother-in-chief.
“I believe success isn’t measured by how many millions the wealthiest have, but how many children climb out of poverty, and how many families get ahead and stay ahead,” she told a cheering crowd of thousands, mostly white and Latino with roughly equal numbers of men and women. She wants to be the champion for a rising middle class, universal pre-school, affordable college and child care, equal pay for women, tax relief for small businesses, the end of discrimination toward the LGBT community and a path to citizenship for hardworking immigrants.
And here’s another thing: She’s passionate about equal rights for women, but at her stage of post-menopausal feminism, she does not threaten or alienate men. Rather, she co-opts them, turning them into allies. This is old-fashioned feminine wiles at its most mature. It is also why two of the most powerful men in America—Bill and Barack—will be among Clinton’s most avid supporters in her second run for president.