Hillary’s sense of humor

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I can remember the first time I heard Hillary Rodham (her name back then, in 1969, when we first met at Yale Law School) laugh. There was a bunch of guys and Hillary in the law school lounge: I forget the joke, but all of a sudden we heard this great laugh — you only describe it by using the expression "belly laugh" — and we all started laughing harder, realizing that we were egged on by Hillary's deep and utterly joyful laughter.

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One of the most telling moments during the 2008 presidential campaign was when Hillary laughed with the same hearty laugh during one of the presidential debates, evoking my fond memories of law school days. Yet the next day, I saw — in disbelief — nasty journalists actually calling her laugh a "cackle." I was so angry. It was obvious to me, and probably most women, that no male candidate would be said to "cackle" when he laughed.

Hillary wasn't just funny when she laughed — she has a great sense of humor, usually based on not taking herself too seriously and sharing in the joke about herself without taking offense.

I was reminded of all this when I saw some excerpts from the ABC Diane Sawyer interview posted over the weekend, on the eve of the June 10 roll-out of the publication of her memoir, Hard Choices. (I haven't read the book yet but have read some excerpts published in the last week or so). 

Ms. Sawyer asked Hillary about a comment from Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), whom she quoted as recently stating that the Democratic "presidential ticket for 2016 is shaping up to look like a rerun of the 'Golden Girls.'"

Some politicians would take umbrage at this cheap shot and slash back. I was thinking she might have said, "Wait a minute, Mitch McConnell is one to talk — he's not exactly a spring chicken!" Or that she would have reminded Ms. Sawyer that if she were elected in 2016, she will be younger than Ronald Reagan, whose two terms as president Republicans still revere.

Instead of my snarky or argumentative response, Hillary burst into a big smile and laugh and said of the "Golden Girls": "That was a very popular, long-running TV series." Classic.

Just as characteristic for me was her response to the comment by Karl Rove, who speculated, without any evidence and inaccurately, that Hillary may have suffered brain "damage" as a result of a concussion and blood clot at the end of 2012.

Again, if it were me, I would have described Rove's comment as not only false, but as the worst form of political sleaze. Instead, Hillary broke into a big smile, and said: "I know he was called [George W.] 'Bush’s brain' in one of the books written about him, and I wish him well."

"I wish him well." (!)

Again, I thought, classic Hillary.

I only wish Ms. Sawyer had asked Hillary to comment on the remark made by Mr. Charming, Russian President Vladimir Putin, when Putin was asked about her comparison between his actions in Ukraine to Adolf Hitler encouraging German nationals in other sovereign nations to "invite" German annexation.

Putin actually said (I am not making this up): "It's better not to argue with women. But Mrs. Clinton has never been too graceful in her statements. ... When people push boundaries too far, it's not because they are strong but because they are weak. But maybe weakness is not the worst quality for a woman."

I am pretty sure the response would have been a quick look of disbelief, and then a big smile, maybe a gracious comment about Putin, and then a rich laugh, growing and spreading to all watching and listening, just like 45 years ago.

Davis served as special counsel to former President Clinton and is principal in the Washington D.C. law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, and is Executive Vice President of the strategic communications firm, Levick. He is the author of a recently published book, Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics and Life.

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