Hillary Clinton was on NBC's Saturday Night Live during the 2008 campaign and appeared alongside Amy Poehler, her alter ego on the show.
They poked through the facade. Clinton went on as herself, wearing the same pantsuit as Poehler, who feigned awkwardness about sharing the screen with the woman she mocked weekly (though Poehler and Clinton say they are friends in real life).
Last night, Clinton again appeared on SNL — on the season premiere.
This time she was in character as a bartender named Val, chatting up Hillary Clinton, played now by Kate McKinnon. They ended up with their arms around each other, and Clinton embraced a lot of what ails her as a candidate.
- Authenticity: One of the most common criticisms of the real Hillary Clinton is that she is anything but "real." She's criticized as too calculating — even "wooden" in public. She's been making the rounds on comedy shows lately to show what a "real" person she really is. Right out of the gate on SNL, the real Hillary Clinton got to look at McKinnon's image of Hillary Clinton, defining herself as a "grandmother" and "a human," and say, "Oh, I get it. You're a politician."
- Elitism: The real Clinton is facing a strong challenge from Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who contrasts himself as a man of the people, leaving the image of Clinton as the ultimate insider, and friend of the elites — from Washington to Wall Street. It's an image that sticks, and something Clinton was able to tackle in character. Through "Val," she said, "I'm just an ordinary citizen who believes the Keystone pipeline will destroy our environment."
- Keystone: It's not all about personality. Clinton confronted issues that many progressives wish she embraced sooner. The first was that line about the Keystone XL pipeline. Clinton was the last Democratic candidate to publicly oppose it. The real Clinton assured the fake Clinton on SNL, "There's nothing wrong with taking your time. What's important is getting it right."
- Same-Sex Marriage: Clinton also took her time endorsing same-sex marriage. She did so in 2013 (the first year a full 50 percent of Americans did the same), and last night the fake Hillary Clinton — played by the first openly gay woman to join the SNL cast — called her out on live TV. Fake Clinton said, "I could have supported it sooner." The real Clinton pushed back, but then relented when McKinnon, with a wink, gave her a chance for a mea culpa. "Fair point" is where Clinton left it.
- Inevitability: Clinton launched her 2016 campaign pushing back hard on the perception that she expected to win — the sense of inevitability that surrounded her campaign in 2008. Clinton repeatedly says how hard she's working "for every vote." But one of the most consistent threads of any Clinton impression is that she wants a victory to be inevitable. This was done slyly in the midst of a joke that wrapped in Clinton's age and desire to be seen as human. Real Hillary Clinton, playing a bartender, asked fake Clinton for her ID. Laughing it off, fake Clinton noted that she is old enough to have a 1-year-old granddaughter: "She calls me Madam President."
- Age: In 2008, Clinton represented the old guard. Barack Obama represented a fresh generation of leadership. We know which won. Now, Clinton needs to inspire young voters to turn out like they did for Obama. The nod to Clinton's status as a grandmother led to disbelief from the real Clinton. "You give off such a young, cool vibe," she assured fake Clinton. Then came a mention that her campaign headquarters is in the hippest of New York City's five boroughs: Brooklyn. Though, fake Hillary made it seem like she hadn't actually spent much time there.
Through her four minutes on SNL, Hillary Clinton avoided the biggest things that are damaging her bid for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Clinton didn't talk about her emails, a scandal that SNL has already toyed with since it heated up well before the show's summer hiatus. She also avoided any allusion to the economic populism that has fueled her main challenger for the Democratic nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.
And there was no mention of Vice President Joe Biden, on a weekend when there is more speculation about his possible entry into the race. Even without running, Biden is a drag on Clinton's poll numbers. Many have said it's because he's so human — so relatable.
But Clinton ended her cameo singing with a pal. Badly. And without a total command of the lyrics. That's about as relatable as she could get.