Clarence Fanto | The Bottom Line: As Trump reels, Clinton finds sweet spot on the trail


LENOX >> Donald J. Trump is a role model for the nation's youth. LOL.

Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, running hard for re-election against Democratic challenger Gov. Maggie Hasson, actually said so last Monday night during a debate.

"There are many role models we have, and I believe he can serve as president, and so absolutely," she declared.

Hours later, via Twitter, Ayotte backpedaled furiously, writing: "I misspoke tonight. While I would hope all of our children would aspire to be president, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton have set a good example and I wouldn't hold up either of them as role models for my kids."

Notably, Ayotte was walking a tightrope and fell off; she and Hassan are in one of the nation's tightest races, the outcome of which could determine whether Democrats can recapture control of the Senate.

Still, as Republican strategist Brian Walsh told reporters: "Most party loyalists on both sides feel they need to say publicly that their candidate is a good role model but privately don't really believe it themselves. What we see in New Hampshire this week is the same tortured Kabuki dance many Americans are undergoing this election season, just on a higher-profile stage."

Ayotte was wise to recant her description of Trump, but she and her kids might have a different view of Clinton as a role model if they take an hour to watch a C-SPAN video of a campaign stop last Tuesday in Haverford, Pa., a Philadelphia suburb.

The event was carefully choreographed using a "town hall" format, and it showed Clinton to be more authentic, down-to-earth and personable than in most rallies and debates. The discussion was moderated by Pittsfield native and Clinton supporter Elizabeth Banks, the actress of "Pitch Perfect" fame.

Brennan Leach, 15, posed the first question: "At my school, body image is a really big issue for girls my age. I see with my own eyes the damage Donald Trump does when he talks about women and how they look. As the first female president, how would you undo some of that damage and help girls understand that they are so much more than just what they look like?"

Who could blame Clinton from looking as if she had just been pitched a question she could easily hit out of the park.

Quickly turning serious, she declared that "it's shocking when women are called names and judged solely on the basis of physical attributes."

After focusing on damaging messages from media obsessed with beauty and sexuality, the candidate displayed great passion as she recounted Trump's insults against Alicia Machado, Miss Universe 1996: "How do you get more acclaimed than that, but it wasn't good enough. We can't take any of this seriously anymore; we need to laugh at it, we need to refute it, we need to ignore it and we need to stand up to it, especially the bullying."

"There are too many young women online who are being bullied about how they look, and being shamed, mistreated," she went on. "Sometimes that leads to tragic outcomes, the pressure of being talked about that way leads some young women to try to hurt themselves. We've got to be as clear as possible, you are more than the way you look. We're not all going to end up being Miss Universe, I hate to tell you."

It was arguably among the finest moments of her campaign as Clinton told the cheering crowd: "Let's be the best we can be, and let's be proud of who we are, let's support other women and girls in being proud of who they are!"

Ms. Leach, who acknowledged later that her father, Daylin Leach, a Democratic state senator, had helped her with the wording of the question, told reporters that a friend victimized by bullying had committed suicide last year.

"It's really hard for me throughout school to see the pain Donald Trump inflicts on my friends," she said, "especially at such an insecure time as middle school and high school."

On other topics, Clinton spoke eloquently on the epidemic of gun violence, the urgent need for "common sense" safety regulations such as comprehensive background checks as well as closing the online and gun show loopholes.

Declaring her support for Second Amendment rights, she pointed out that "I respect the right of responsible people to own guns, but I want to do what I can to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them in the first place and end up hurting others or themselves."

Clinton also declared that in order to defuse tensions, it's necessary to "put ourselves in the other shoes" of young African-American men as well as of law enforcement.

"There are so many good, honorable police officers," she told the audience. "They need our support, they need our backing and we have to help them get the kind of training and standards to make it more possible for every officer to know how to de-escalate situations. Remember, people are scared on both sides, and we have to do everything we can to create a bigger zone of safety. We have to get guns out of the hands of people who are dangerous to the community and dangerous to the police."

Considering that she often comes across as aloof, detached and defensive, this event before a friendly crowd offered a very different perspective. With 30 days to go, it would behoove her to let her guard down, take the high road and focus on inspirational messages while her opponent sinks further into the mire of demagoguery.

Contact Clarence Fanto at The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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