Hillary Clinton and Justin Bieber have a bit in common.
Bieber, for those not familiar with him, is a former teen pop star (now in his 20s) who is beloved by millions of mostly female fans. Bieber has also gotten into some trouble with the law in the last couple years. He was accused of vandalism in Brazil and later of egging a house. Then he was arrested for allegedly drag racing in Miami. His public image began to take a hit.
Like Bieber, Hillary has had a rough few years. The “smart power” approach to Russia didn’t work out and, even if you only look at the tepid ARB report, she presided over a genuine disaster in Benghazi. So, what’s a celebrity with bad press to do? Well, you take a page from Justin’s playbook.
One of the things Justin is known for is loving his fans (“Beliebers”) and, on occasion, going out of his way to surprise them. Back in 2011, he stunned a 15-year-old superfan on the television talk show Ellen. In 2012, he did the same for a small group of fans who thought they were being asked for their opinion on a video game. In 2013, he surprised fans at an elementary school in Las Vegas. Justin even arranged a private concert for a sick fan in Australia. He told the media at the time, “I love my beliebers so much. They are always there for me and have done so much for me. It was so special to be able to give something back.”
To be fair, Bieber seems to have been doing this sort of thing before his legal troubles started. But there’s no doubt the press from a positive story helps him after being arrested or charged with doing something dangerous or stupid.
That’s because people everywhere genuinely like to see big stars interacting with regular people. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a Justin Bieber song all the way through, but it’s fun watching him surprise awestruck 15-year-olds. In those moments, he seems likable. His star power is being channeled into something personally generous.
We’ve been hearing for weeks now that Hillary’s 2016 campaign for president was going to be markedly different from her 2012 campaign. The secret sauce this time out was going to be humility. In practice that meant Hillary was going start from the bottom and engage in retail politics at coffee shops and diners rather than present her candidacy as a fait accompli. It’s all part of positioning her campaign as the one that cares about the little guy.
So instead of using the millions she earned giving speeches to well-heeled organizations and chartering a private jet to Iowa, Hillary chose to drive across country in a van. Her first stop on the caravan of humility was a Chipotle restaurant in a suburb of Toledo, Ohio. Hillary went inside and placed her order while wearing dark sunglasses, like you do if you’re a big star playing at being a regular person. The NY Times reported on Hillary’s stop, complete with security-cam images, after they were “tipped off” by someone. Whoever called in the tip must not have worked at the Chipotle, because the manager and his staff were said to be kicking themselves at not getting a chance to meet such a big celebrity.
Not that she’s a big celebrity! She’s a regular person just like you and me (except the manager at your local Chipotle probably doesn’t care if he meets you).
Hillary’s next stop is a school in Iowa where she is speaking to a hand-selected audience of six students. The Washington Free Beacon posted a clip of the media’s reaction to the arrival of Hillary’s “Scooby” van at the school. Watch that clip and then compare it to this one of female fans chasing Justin Bieber’s sedan in London. And here’s the same reaction to Bieber passing by in Oslo. Granted, it’s not exactly the same thing, but it’s close enough for government work.
The point of all this is that Hillary’s humility tour is really about impressing people with a calculated show of humility. That’s nothing new for politicians of course. Hillary is hardly the first. But then neither is Justin Bieber. Shakespeare wrote about this dynamic in Coriolanus hundreds of years ago. Real people have always liked to see famous people treating them as equals. The only question is how long Hillary, who seems much less comfortable in this role than Bieber, can pull it off.