In Clinton’s case, though, there is a history of pandering that hasn’t always worked in her favor. An appearance at the Apollo last month was met with groans after she made the ill-advised decision to “raise the roof.” #NotMyAbuela trended on Twitter after another ill-advised choice to run a campaign comparing Clinton to Latino voters’ grandmothers. The Clinton campaign logo was widely mocked for a sharing a civil-rights variant of its logo which included Rosa Parks—relegated, once again, to the back.
If all candidates pander, why does Clinton seem to be held to a higher standard? Gender may play a role. Perhaps men are simply given more critical leeway—a charge reflected in the ceaseless back-and-forth about “tone” between her campaign, the Sanders camp, and debate moderators. Also, unlike Sanders, Clinton is such a known quantity now that it is hard to see her as anything but the media-crafted image as a moderate-leaning calculating pragmatist, an image that might persist even through genuine changes of heart and strategy. Sanders, however, benefits from being a bit of a political tabula rasa. He was a relatively unknown candidate before the race. In other words, it’s easier to sell Bernie Sanders as your angry grandfather who “gets it” than it is to sell Hillary Clinton as your abuela.
But Clinton still seems to suffer from some unique deficits, especially when it comes to young black voters. That may be a legacy of the “superpredators” remark, which has been a sore spot for Clinton and young black voters, along with many elements of Bill Clinton’s presidency. The deficit may come from a reputation for changing views—flip-flopping or calibration, depending on your outlook—that erodes goodwill or trust. That reputation is also a function of her time in the spotlight, as any political figure will have their warts and bad policy ideas laid bare given enough time. Hillary Clinton’s deficit could have come from her less-than-warm initial embrace with Black Lives Matter protesters, in a series of events that cast her as off-balance and patronizing. Or it might come from a certain lack of cultural deftness from her campaign, which might be implicated in the execution of some of the more head-scratching cultural faux pas in the first place.
Blowback from pandering may not be a real issue for Clinton; while there is an age and regional schism in black support for Clinton versus Sanders, it seems likely she will still capture the bloc as a whole with ease. The vocal social-media opposition to some of her actions likely represents a minority viewpoint among people of color. Backlash may not be an issue for other candidates, either. But especially for the groups fighting for more political power, genuineness is a major currency. The fragile and inherently fractious coalition of the Democratic Party relies on trust between a broad range of diverse groups. In a race to woo the underrepresented groups at the heart of the party, optimism is still a major driver of support. This candidate finally gets me.
Clinton was likely just offering a real, personal answer to a personal question. This deep into a race as each candidate becomes a petrified, marketed, packaged set of ideas and archetypes, it is a refreshing change of pace. But Clinton’s answer doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and this time it raised an old specter that has dogged the campaign for some time. Sometimes hot sauce isn’t just hot sauce. And sometimes, that’s all it is.