Hillary Says She Was Inartful

by Bob Schwartz

Hillary Clinton

Asked about her comments on the Clinton family wealth, Hillary Clinton now says, “Well, I shouldn’t have said the five or so words that I said, but my inartful use of those few words doesn’t change who I am, what I’ve stood for my entire life, what I stand for today.”

There were actually more than five words, on two recent occasions. First she said that she and Bill Clinton were not only dead broke when they left the White House, they were in debt. Then she said that they paid their taxes like regular people, not like others who were “truly well off.”

Aside from whether these words reflect their financial affairs, or whether they reflect her being out of touch or just a bit rusty as a candidate, this is the thing: regular people don’t use the word “inartful,” at least or especially not if they are running for President and trying to look like regular people.

Publicly, Bill Clinton would not say “inartful.” George W. Bush wouldn’t say it. Barack Obama wouldn’t say it. And besides those last three Presidents, John McCain wouldn’t say it. And neither would Mitt Romney, who when he faced having made a similar and very damaging comment about income, simply said that he “misspoke.”

There’s nothing wrong with being wealthy, smart, well-spoken, or intellectual. Plenty of Presidents and successful leaders have been some or all of these. But the challenging key is to be both comfortable with who you are and yet able to be appropriately yourself in whatever context you are in.

Lots of us may use “inartful” as part of our writing or conversation; it’s actually a very useful word. But lots of us—almost all of us—are not running for President, or considering it.

Finally, for those who are into word things, there is another point. “Artful” sounds pretty good, particularly if you mean getting your language just right to express your thoughts. But it is a close cousin of the word “artifice,” which has a very different meaning and feel. So if what Hillary was trying to say was that her previous comments were imperfect artifice—that she didn’t get the story about the Clinton wealth quite right—then maybe she is on to something. And maybe “inartful” was le mot juste.