The big theme of BuzzFeed's new Hillary Clinton profile is that the candidate is not the power-hungry creature that so many people think she is. Beneath that ambitious exterior, we're told, something deeper has driven her throughout her career: a cause called love and kindness.
She was speaking at a conference on the West Coast, and that's where it slipped out for the first time. "I know it's not usual for somebody running for president to say what we need more of in this country is love and kindness," she said. "But that's exactly what we need more of."
A few weeks later, standing on a sweep of green in Hanover, New Hampshire, Clinton took it further. "I want this campaign, and eventually my administration," she said, "to be more about inspiring young people, and older ones as well, to find that niche where kindness matters, whether it's to a friend, a neighbor, a colleague, a fellow student—whether it's in the classroom, or a doctor's office, or in a business—we need to do more to help each other.
"That's what my campaign is about," she said. "I want more kindness."
BuzzFeed's writer, Ruby Cramer, takes these platitudes at face value, painting Clinton as a caring woman misunderstood by the media, by Washington, sometimes by her own staff. Yet the whole thing feels so calculated, down to that little phrase at the beginning: "I know it's not usual for somebody running for president to say…" When people feel the need to announce that they're being daring and different, it's usually a pretty good sign that they aren't. (George H.W. Bush called for a "kinder and gentler nation" when he was accepting the Republican nomination 28 years ago. Clinton isn't exactly breaking new ground here.) It's easy to be cynical about this, to say that Clinton is just trying to remold her image and that BuzzFeed's mash note is a vessel for the message.
But what if she's serious? No, seriously; let's consider that. What if this is how Clinton sees herself?
A ruthless pol trying to craft a more kind and loving public persona: That's a familiar sight. But a ruthless pol whose private sense of self really looks like this, a ruthless pol who genuinely believes a campaign to elect her president is "about" "inspiring" "more kindness"? That's sort of sad, and it's a little megalomaniacal too. What the world needs now may be love, sweet love, but Washington isn't going to provide it; of all the things that might inspire people to do more to help their friends and neighbors, surely the presidency is nowhere near the top of the list. Yet here Clinton is casting her candidacy as a kind of national encounter group, with herself as our therapist-in-chief.
Add the fact that this particular politician is better known for war than warmth, and we find ourselves in deeply dark territory. President Clinton lecturing us on love and kindness as she drops bombs on Syria or Yemen—that would be bad enough. But if the lecture is sincere, if she sees each airstrike as an act of love: Now that would be unbearable.