Looking back at a busy life and a lost election, Hillary Clinton summed things up.
“I have been often – in my view, obviously – mis-characterized, mis-perceived,” she said. “And I have to bear a lot of the responsibility for it.”
She was talking to the Television Critics Association in January (shown here), about the documentary (“Hillary”) that debuts Friday (March 6) on Hulu. And she was saying that it’s her fault, partly, that Donald Trump is president.
In the film, the late Betsy Ebeling (Clinton’s friend since 6th grade) discusses “the myth about her being cold and distant and, ‘How could anyone trust her?’”
In truth, friends say in the film, she was a firebrand in high school, at Wellesley College, at Yale Law School … and then in real life. “Every battle we fought abstractedly at Yale, she fought” when her husband was governor of Arkansas, says Nancy Gertner, a former classmate and a retired judge.
This was a Southern governor’s wife who kept her maiden name, kept her law job, kept her hard-driving approach. Somehow that evolved into the reserved image people saw later. “I was too … defensive,” Clinton says in the film. “I didn’t play the game well.”
What about the notion that she simply isn’t likable? “It’s really an unfair double-standard,” she insisted to the TCA. “Women have the same right to have a full range of emotions and approaches.”
Filmmaker Nanette Burstein harvested 1,700 hours of behind-the-scenes campaign footage and also taped 35 hours of interviews with Clinton – including seemingly casual moments during breaks.
“I said, ‘Oh, we’re gonna roll all the time,” Burstein said. But “people forget that.”
That may explain a mini-rant about Bernie Sanders, which ended up in the film. “Nobody liked him,” Clinton says. “Nobody wanted to work with him …. He got nothing done.”
Clinton had no say in the film, Burstein said, and told “her story on such an honest, human level.”
She grew up comfortably in Chicago suburbia, where she got experience at losing a presidential race. That was for class president, she says in the film. “The boy who won asked me to do all the work.”
She campaigned for Barry Goldwater in 1964 and then, in her freshman year at Wellesley, was elected president of the Young Republicans.
Her politics would change. At graduation, she was the student speaker … setting aside her written comments to rebuke the speech of U.S. Sen. Edward Brooke (R-Massachusetts). That drew national attention and a headline that said: “From Goldwater girl to golden girl.”
As one of the few women at Yale Law, she instantly drew Bill Clinton’s attention. “I just found her magnetic,” he says in the film. “She was different from anyone I’d ever met.”
He became Arkansas’ governor at 32, but the Southern state wasn’t sure what to make of a First Lady who kept her maiden name, was a law partner and led his education task force.
It was only after he lost his re-election bid and ran a third time that she reluctantly became Hillary Clinton. “I became a kind of Rorshach Test for women and women’s roles,” she told the TCA.
That was magnified when he became president and put her in charge of a proposed national health plan. She was startled, she told the TCA, that it would “create the most extraordinary backlash, that the First Lady would be involved in trying to make sure everybody had quality, affordable healthcare.”
The Clinton presidency recovered … then was jolted by reports of the president’s sexual encounters with an intern, Monica Lewinsky. “I believed Lewinsky from the beginning,” Gertner, a law-school classmate of both Clintons, says in the film, adding: “It didn’t seem far from the (Bill Clinton) I knew.”
In the film, he calls it “inexcusable what I did” and Hillary Clinton says: “I didn’t want to talk to him; I didn’t want anything to do with him.”
She says there were “painful, painful discussions” before she decided to continue the marriage. And she credits their daughter Chelsea with walking between them, holding hands with each.
Chelsea doesn’t discuss that in the film, but talks about her “super present, super warm, amazing mom.” That’s the opposite of the image – molded, Hillary Clinton told the TCA, by all the attacks she absorbed. They “did cause me to get even more cautious and more careful and more guarded.”
She had busy stints as a senator and a secretary of state (totaling almost a million miles in four years), but twice was overwhelmed by more-spontaneous candidates – Barack Obama and Donald Trump.
The latter loss stings Clinton. “We’re in a real struggle with a form of politics that is incredibly negative, exclusive, mean-spirited,” she told told the TCA. Her own preference, she said, is “an inclusive, generous, open-hearted country that faces up to the future, tries to bring people together.”