Hillary spreads the love

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a town hall meeting in Waterloo, Iowa. (Charlie Neibergall, AP)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a town hall meeting in Waterloo, Iowa. (Charlie Neibergall, AP)

Urbandale - Hillary Clinton had just finished detailing the dangers of terrorism, recalling tough calls in the White House situation room as secretary of state and lashing out at her Republican rivals for threatening the safety of Americans.

But when a man broke into her riff with a question about how the country could confront a new wave of hate and fear, her response sounded less like that of a commander in chief than of a soothing self-help guru. "We've got to do everything we can to weed out hate and plant love and kindness," she told a crowd of several hundred.

The lovey-dovey message seems surprising coming from a Washington veteran so battle-hardened that she often cites Eleanor Roosevelt's mantra about women in public life needing "skin like a rhinoceros". But as she grapples with Donald Trump's prominence in the Republican race, she's embraced a little love and kindness as a near-constant refrain.

In Alabama, she told lawyers celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Montgomery bus boycott that justice means "standing beside love". In Atlanta, Clinton promised black ministers she'd run on a "love and kindness platform". After Trump said he'd block Muslims from entering the country, her campaign quickly churned out a new catch phrase: "Love trumps hate."

Republicans scoff at the idea of Clinton preaching a gospel of love.

"I think most voters see her as warm and cuddly as a porcupine," said Republican pollster Nicole McCleskey. "It has a hollow ring to it."

Clinton has been a divisive figure since the era of "the vast right-wing conspiracy", as she called critics. In a Democratic debate in autumn, she said she was proud to have made enemies of Republicans.

But she's also talked about compassion for decades, dating back to her earliest days as first lady when she decried a national "crisis of meaning" in a 1993 address. And the importance of compassionate communities has long been an underpinning of her domestic policies.

Today, Clinton rarely ends her remarks without asking her audience to consider adding some "love and kindness" to their daily lives.

Her campaign has also tried to hold up Trump as emblematic of the Republican Party, stressing that while his rhetoric may be harsher than that of his rivals, his positions on immigration and more are shared by the entire field.

Trump has accused Mexican immigrants of being rapists, called to ban Muslims from entering the country and mocked the appearances of his opponents, women and a disabled reporter - rhetoric that is in fact distinct to Trump and has been denounced in many cases by his party rivals.

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