backstage person

Hillary Clinton by Mike Mozart

When a Facebook friend slammed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton recently as a “godawful (sic) human being,” that triggered images of god-awful human beings like – you know–Adolf Eichmann, Pol Pot and Osama bin Laden. Turns out that the Facebooker wasn’t thinking of crimes against humanity but Clinton’s failure to be entirely forthcoming about her State Department e-mails. Since that didn’t seem to me to make the cut for “god-awful human being,” I thought again, as I often have, about why Clinton inspires such thoughtless vitriol. I think it’s because she’s a victim of her virtues.

I didn’t realize that until I watched her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. Because I get the vapors at the mere prospect of walking into a room full of people I’ve never met, one sentence in her address jumped out at me. “The truth is,” she said, “through all these years of public service, the ‘service’ part has always come easier to me than the ‘public’ part.”

That was a telling admission for this reason. We all live double lives, a public one and a private one. Most people shuttle back and forth between them without giving it much thought. They put their “game faces” on every day, exit their private sanctuaries and do what they have to do. If there isn’t much difference between your public and your private self, making that daily trip doesn’t exact a psychic cost.

But some people are wired, I’m convinced, to be more at home in one of those worlds than in the other. And I don’t think the two personality types really get what it feels like to be their opposites. To at least hint at what it may be like to be Clinton’s type, I’m going to go all confessional on you.

When I was mulling over my career options, I thought the academic world would be a good place for the private, retiring, bookish person I was then (and still am). I could make a decent living doing what I was most comfortable with, living mostly inside my own head.

But I didn’t count on the teaching part of the job not being anything like that. It was about equal parts salesmanship and showmanship. Having no gift for either, I compensated by always being over prepared and making sure that I could be heard in the back of the room. So I didn’t live just a public and a private life, but an onstage life (sometimes literally) and a backstage life. Although I got pretty good at the onstage aspects of teaching, I never really inhabited the role. I always felt that I was acting, pretending to be somebody else, always nagged by the feeling that my onstage self was a fraud. So my career involved daily self-inflicted low-level violence to my sense of myself for over three decades.

That’s why, when I heard Clinton say that the “service” part of public service comes more easily to her than the “public” part, I thought I knew instantly what she meant. She’s a backstage person. That’s where she’s most herself. So people who carp at her for being secretive, inauthentic, wooden and emotionally armored up are right. That’s the way backstage people come across onstage.

Pollster Peter Hart recently profiled a voter whose take on Clinton is an example of the headwinds her personality generates. Hart’s subject was a longtime Republican who can’t stomach Trump and is voting for Clinton but only reluctantly. She doesn’t trust Clinton, she told Hart, because she’s “unapproachable.”

But this woman, along with everybody else, is wrong to think that Clinton’s buttoned up demeanor on the stump bespeaks some kind of character flaw. And everybody’s even more wrong to think that Clinton could just tug on her earlobe and blink three times real fast to become an expansively gregarious person with her heart affixed to her sleeve. Media heavyweights, like New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, who’ve kept after her to be more vulnerable and less guarded, are obtuse in not understanding that they’re faulting her for not being another person. She can’t be another person. People are who they are. And she’s a backstager.

Realizing that kicked my respect for her up several notches. She could have made mountains of money as a high-powered plaintiffs attorney practicing beyond the pitiless glare of the stage lights. But her commitment to public service is so deep that she’s absorbed the psychic cost of acting against the grain year after year, knowing that she’s never going to be the inspirational figure that Presidents Clinton and Obama have been. That isn’t her gift. So she’s compensated by always being over prepared and making sure that she could be heard in the back of the room.

It speaks volumes about her native character that she chose a path of service that required her to act out of character so much of the time. Having some idea of the inner resources she’s had to call on to do that, I’m willing to cut her some slack for bobbing and weaving over the three State Department e-mails whose classified status was indicated only by an inconspicuous letter “C” down in the lower left-hand corner.


Image: Hillary Clinton by Mike Mozart via flickr and used under a Creative Commons license.

Leon Galis

I'm an Athens, GA, native and have been living in Athens since 1999 after retiring from the faculty of Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, PA. Since 2008 I've written approximately 80 columns for the Athens Banner Herald and a handful for Flagpole Magazine in Athens.  

  1. Thank you Leon. Cannot for the world understand the vitriol she engenders. Oh, Kenneth Star, Roger Ailes, Rush Limbaugh, Brietbart, Beck and their ilk might have had something to do with it? I am not a writer, but there is something to be said about the conspiracy against her and Bill and the comeuppance they’re now getting; i.e.; Starr, Ailes, etc.?

    1. Thirty years of incoming from the GOP attack machine have certainly taken a toll. What really bothers me is that she should be getting points for having stuck with a career of service for which her personality type is less than ideal. Instead, that mismatch has just encouraged her detractors, including some who should be in her corner. Anyway, thanks for reading.

  2. The only persons the Clintons have served are themselves. If you really think they are such wonderful people, you need to take a look at their finances and their bogus ‘charitable foundation’. Also, I wonder how they went from broke to having a net worth of $240 million in 16 years. Finally, they are both incredible liars. Also, how do you feel about all of the people who have mysteriously died or been murdered around them? And, what do you think of Hillary asking her staff if there was a way to kill Julian Assange a few years back. That is very suspicious. Stop being a liberal, Leon. It is a mental disorder and blinds you to the truth.

      1. Just read it. You are one whack job leftist. You wrote enough leftwing lunatic statements to fill a whole Obama speech. I bet you are another victim of the atheist, leftist factories known as American public schools.

        1. And you’re hilarious! You don’t recognize satire when you see it. Awesome!

          1. The satire is your assertion that Hillary Clinton is a victim of any kind. Actually, numb nuts ‘professor’ your ivory tower mind does not get it. She is a crook and a criminal.

    1. Lee Leslie

      The foundation created by the Clintons do a world of good. The Clintons take no money from the foundation. And this isn’t some bank account where they hand out checks, this is an operating charity where they create and fund initiatives here and around the world. And it isn’t just rich donors, they “have more than 300,000 contributors; 90% of our donations are $100 or less.” And “the Clinton Global Initiative community have made more than 3,600 Commitments to Action, which have improved the lives of over 435 million people in more than 180 countries” – that is amazing.

      Facts about the “bogus” Clinton Foundation from CNN (

      Health initiatives in more than 70 countries, helping 11.5 million people (800,000 children; the provide HIV/AIDS medication at 90% lower cost — more than half the adults and three-quarters of the children getting treatment in the world today.

      But it does all kinds of other work as well. For instance, it helps East African farmers get better seeds and fertilizers. It supported Nepal’s reconstruction after the 2015 earthquakes. And it has connected more than 500,000 Latin Americans to job training and entrepreneurship opportunities.

      The Clinton Foundation does tons of work in the US, too. Some examples: It has a school program that operates in every state, affecting more than 31,000 schools and 18 million students by its count. That program is to improve physical education, child nutrition, health education and staff wellness programs. They also work on prescription drug addiction. The foundation wants to halve the number of opioid overdoses — right now those drugs kill more Americans than car accidents.

      Charity Watch gave the Clinton Foundation an A grade, while GuideStar gave it a platinum rating.

      Daniel Borochoff of Charity Watch noted that in 2014, 87.2% of the foundation’s funding went to its programs, “which is really high.” The foundation, he said, does “really important, valuable work that saves lives of lots of people.”

      For a while, another group called Charity Navigator had the Clinton Foundation on a watch list because of media reports about possible conflicts of interest. It didn’t judge the merit of the reports but wanted to flag for donors that others were raising questions.

      How did the get their money? From Forbes ( See the chart below
      Sure they made money after they left office. How else were they to live? They didn’t even own a house. But of this money, they gave a great deal of it to charities, including their own.

      As to those who count the bodies of people they have met or known, gee whiz, get a life. Everyone dies. This is silly made up to get people like you to think it is true.

      1. what a leftist cut and paste job.

          1. You can vote for Trump and help to save the country rather than turning it over to globalists working for satan. We are well aware that Hillary is only a puppet. Have a great day and keep believing the Clinton fairietales if you hate America that much.

          2. Hold on, David. I’m nearly 78 years old. Because at my age I could wake up dead any time, I don’t spend time I’ll never get back trading insults with people. So I just want to say this. The election isn’t a struggle between people who love America and people who hate America. The people on all sides love America. They just have profound differences about the way our country is best governed. So we should all take care that we don’t poison the well that we all have to drink out of. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d like to get back to what’s left of my life. I’m done here.

          3. It is not about love of country. But, even it were, your side loves a communist/atheist/abortionist/homosexualist America that does not resemble what Christians want. What you want is evil to us. Hillary and the Dems represent all of these things and if she wins, Godly America will be gone forever. Our country will have been stolen from us and turned into a leftist nightmare. We are diametrically in opposition and we will never agree on anything, unless you were to change your mind. But, I am not optimistic that will happen. If she wins, we are looking at a civil war in this country, unless they succeed in taking away our means of self defense first. But, if Hillary sends out her minions to take our means of self defense away, they will be met with resistance.

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