The big winner in last night's Democratic debate, according to a bunch of thinker-types, seems to be Sen. Hillary Clinton. She sounded presidential, she knew her stuff and remains the clear leader of the field, they say. But did she sound like a Midwesterner? Being a born and raised Midwesterner, I found The Washington Post's A1 strategy piece on the Democratic frontrunner and former first lady a fascinating look at how people think a person from the middle of the country is supposed to look and act.
While religion is never directly addressed in the article, it haunts the piece and one can't help but wonder whether religion is missing because the Clinton people failed to include it in their personality plan for the candidate or the reporters found it insignificant and failed to include it. Religious faith is clearly a part of her life, as we saw in last night's Sojourners forum, but more on that later.
Here is the section buried 13 paragraphs into the story that touched on Clinton's religion ever so slightly:
Now, some of those same advisers -- particularly Mandy Grunwald, who made the 1992 "Hope" film and directs all of the current Clinton media -- are at work recasting Hillary Clinton.
Her transformation has been mostly about emphasis: Where she was once best known as a high-powered lawyer in a prominent Arkansas firm, she now talks about her legal work for the poor. Where she was once best known as the impassioned commencement speaker at her Wellesley College graduation in 1969, Clinton now reminisces about church outings on Saturdays as a child. At recent campaign stops in Iowa, she noted her father's service in the Navy during World War II and the fact that while her family paid her college tuition, she paid for her books and then borrowed money to go to law school.
Fliers campaign workers distribute at events in Iowa encourage Hawkeye State voters to connect with a candidate with "strong Midwestern roots" and "the sense of community we Midwesterners hold dear." "This is about introducing her to Iowa," said JoDee Winterhof, the campaign's Iowa director. "They know who she is, but these are the things people need to be reminded of."
The absence of any significant mention of religion is curious. Thanks to the Associated Press, we found out last week that Clinton is a "practicing Methodist who attends church as often as possible." We also found out that Clinton, along with Sen. Barack Obama, has brought in paid strategists to focus on reaching religious voters. One has to wonder if those strategists were involved in crafting this Midwestern personality for Clinton.
Back in February The New York Times did a piece with a similar theme: Clinton trying to position herself with mainstream America. This piece talked about Clinton's religious faith much more significantly, but there was a common theme. The question that I want to ask after reading these pieces has more to do with what the candidates are running from by trying to reposition themselves in a way that is somehow more acceptable to the public.