“I’m a true-blue liberal, and I’m allowed to say that—ok?” Rachel Maddow felt it necessary to warn a raucously laughing Hillary Clinton.
Not to worry.
With avowed socialist Bernie Sanders as Clinton’s only opponent formidable enough to have any chance (albeit fading) to derail her juggernaut to the Democratic nomination, it was precisely Maddow’s ultraliberal credentials that seem to have brought the presidential frontrunner to Friday’s installment of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show.
As comfortable for the most part as a coffee klatch, just two white chicks sittin’ around talkin’, it was the candidate’s first one-on-one television interview since her bravura performance the day before during 11 hours on the hot seat of the House Select Benghazi Committee.
Clinton’s prime-time cable appearance was also another milestone in the Humanizing Hillary Project—along with recent appearances on several other Comcast/NBC Universal vehicles, notably a Today Show town hall, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live—as the formerly scripted and brittle politician exposed her softer, warmer side, empathizing with Joe Biden (who helpfully declared his non-candidacy on Wednesday), and emoting over the meaning of friendship and the memory of her mother.
“It’s great to be here with you. Thanks, Rachel,” Clinton gushed—an unaired exchange that appears in the MSNBC-provided transcript.
Thanks were surely in order.
This ideologically moderate, occasionally hawkish former senator and secretary of state—sporting a metallic-leather blue-green jacket that evoked a suit of armor—did seem genuinely grateful for the opportunity to reassure folks on the Democrat Party’s left flank that she really does share their values and aspirations.
Interviewer and subject had a hearty chuckle over the nuttiness of the GOP Right—not only on the Republican-run Benghazi Committee but also from certain fringes of the House.
“You don’t have the nomination,” Maddow said, “and there was already a sitting Republican member of Congress from Alabama, Mo Brooks, who says that he is ready to impeach you on the first day of your presidency.”
“Isn’t that pathetic?” Clinton giggled. “It’s just laughable.”
“It’s amazing,” Maddow agreed.
“It’s so totally ridiculous.”
“But that,” Maddow observed, “is where the Republican Party is.”
Under Maddow’s gentle grilling about some of her husband Bill’s less than attractive actions as president back in the 1990s—like deep-sixing his campaign promise to allow homosexuals to serve openly in the military, signing the gay-unfriendly Defense of Marriage Act as well as a harsh anti-crime law that resulted in unfair sentencing and incarceration for minorities—the former first lady sought to distance herself from those political expediencies.
“I’m not in any way excusing them. I’m explaining,” Clinton said as she cited a variety of political realities that were apparently confronting her husband’s administration, including the novel scenario that he signed the wildly popular Defense of Marriage Act (which was ultimately declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court) largely to stop a mushrooming movement to amend the constitution to make same-sex marriage illegal.
Maddow, an out-and-proud lesbian, even offered the candidate a welcome assist: “And so I know that you and President Clinton are different people, and I know that…you’re not responsible for what he did as president,” Maddow said, notwithstanding that Hillary famously wielded outsize influence on Clinton White House policy.
In one of the few challenging moments of the encounter—the anchor’s first-ever interview with the candidate—Maddow did argue that Clinton’s adversaries might occasionally have a point.
“I do think the Republicans on the committee were right yesterday when they highlighted as a policy matter that Libya is in a bad situation,” Maddow told the candidate, suggesting that the murder of dictator Muammar Khadaffi led to the sort of violent chaos that resulted in the deaths of four Americans, the same kind of unintended consequence that could result from the toppling of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
That prompted a lengthy discourse from Clinton on the complications of Syria, where she supports instituting a coalition-run no-fly zone, and Libya, where she backs continued United States involvement.
“So I’m not prepared to give up on Libya,” Clinton declared, probably doing herself few favors with the Bernie Sanders crowd. “I think we have to do more to invest in Libya.”
In another moment of mild confrontation—“I hope it doesn’t sound mean,” Maddow apologized—the interviewer asked her subject if she kept around inconvenient old friends like her frequent e-mailer and staunch defender Sidney Blumenthal, to say nothing of Lanny Davis and Mark Penn, because it’s difficult in public life to trust the motives of new friends.
And thus, Maddow wondered, will such controversial personalities have power in a second Clinton administration?
“No, it doesn’t sound mean,” Clinton said reassuringly. “I think people raise it…Because we’ve been in public life for so long, we’ve made a lot of new friends over the years…I am like the old Girl Scouts song — you know, ‘make new friends, but keep the old; some are silver, the others are gold.’ And I think I have developed a real, you know, ear for those who are more aggressive in my defense than they may need to be or should be. It is hard on your friends.”
Reacting to Vice President Biden’s decision not to run against her, Clinton told Maddow: ”Well, bless his heart.”
Was that a note of condescension? Maddow of course didn’t ask.
“Look, I am a huge Joe Biden admirer, friend, a former colleague,” Clinton continued, “and I know this was an excruciating decision in a time of just such pain and grief for him and his family. He is liberated and I don’t think history is done with him.”
Finally, Maddow asked what Clinton’s late mother, Dorothy Rodham, would have made of Thursday’s grueling hearing, during which the former secretary kept her calm while the Republicans sneered and foamed at her.
“I think she would have been appalled at the whole spectacle,” Clinton answered, “but she would have been concerned about me getting home, because she was with us in the last years of her life, and she’d be waiting up, and she’d want to know how I was, and whether I’d had anything to eat during the day.
“But I think at the end of it, she would have …breathed a big sigh of relief, because she was someone who lived a really tough life, and she knows that everybody gets knocked down in life, and the question is whether you get back up, or whether you allow yourself to be…knocked out. And that’s the way she raised me.”