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4 Takeaways From Hillary Clinton's 'Fresh Air' Interview

So when exactly did Hillary Clinton change her mind on same-sex marriage? That question was left unanswered in the former secretary of state's lively exchange with Fresh Air host Terry Gross.

The same-sex marriage portion of the interview made for compelling listening because of how much Clinton bridled at Terry's suggestion that she privately supported it long before she publicly endorsed it, and how much Terry kept asking the question. It was like a prizefight with two battlers refusing to back up.

The interview displayed a strength and vulnerability Clinton will have as a candidate if she decides to make another run for the Democratic presidential nomination. They're one and the same: her experience. That experience, combined with her obvious smarts, is what makes her such a challenging interview for a journalist.

But her experience also offers a lengthy record open to dissection, as Terry attempted, leaving Clinton to come up with plausible explanations for dozens of her decisions and actions over the decades.

That said, here are four takeaways from Clinton's Fresh Air interview:

  • Rare is the politician who has publicly admitted to holding or changing a position for political expedience. So it wasn't surprising that she would deny shifting her public position because the same-sex issue went from being politically unpopular to popular. In fairness, she may have evolved on the issue, like so many other Americans, in an organic way and publicly announced her change soon after it happened. But if she did change her stance, or the timing of her announcement of it, for political reasons, political best practices would dictate that she not admit that publicly.
  • Some have described as "testy" Clinton's response to Terry on the same-sex marriage question. "Testy" is clearly a negative description, but her response just as easily could have been described as "forceful," a more positive adjective. A large body of research suggests that when women are assertive, that's often read more negatively than when men are assertive. Maybe that's what's happening here. It's just something to keep in mind.
  • Clinton has to contend with both her record and her husband's. Terry asked her if she was glad that the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, which her husband, President Bill Clinton, signed in 1996. "Of course," Clinton said, explaining that DOMA was a compromise whose aim was in part to prevent even more discriminatory laws from passing Congress.
  • Defending her changed view on same-sex marriage, Clinton took a shot at those who operate in an "evidence-free zone" and "who believe they have a direct line to the divine" and "never want to change their mind about anything." Those are interesting points, coming from an American politician who, if she does run for president, will be appealing for the support of voters of faith. Many believers, Christians especially, talk of their personal relationship with God, which sounds a lot like a "direct line" to the Almighty.
  • And that's not even getting into the New Testament, where faith is described as pretty much an "evidence-free zone" — the "evidence of things not seen" (Hebrews 11:1). Maybe Terry can ask her about that if there's a follow-up interview.

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    Frank James joined NPR News in April 2009 to launch the blog, "The Two-Way," with co-blogger Mark Memmott.
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