As Tim Gunn would say, Hillary Clinton needs to tell a story.

For better or worse, it appears that we are a nation of voters who want to get something warm and fuzzy from our candidates before we cast our ballots. And I’m afraid we still seem to need it to be a story about likability.

Since Hillary’s moment of verklempt-ness, there has been much discussion about how that glimpse behind the steely facade may have helped galvanize a portion of women voters who felt they had finally seen the inner Hillary. Not the Hillary being advised by the men of her husband’s campaigns, who seem to assume that a campaign strategy that worked for her husband will logically work for her.

Jennifer Pozner at WIMN’s Voices blog found exactly the right pop culture reference to Hillary Clinton’s dilemma — that being smart and competent, as a woman, just aren’t enough — in a Gilmore Girl’s episode in which one of the high school girls is running for student body president:

Paris: So that’s it! I’m in!

Madeline: Not quite.

Paris: How is that not quite? Most competent, most qualified. What else is there?

Louise: Well, we also polled likability.

Paris: And?

Madeline: And while people think you are smart —

Paris: and competent

Louise: and competent, they also find you, well, a tad –

Madeline: Scary.

Louise: Someone thought a Halloween mask of you would sell big.

Paris: Well, fine. They don’t like me. Big deal, right? I’m still most competent.

Louise: Yes, but when asked if likability would affect their voting choice, almost 100% said yes.

Paris: That’s crazy. People would rather vote for a moronic twink who they liked over someone who could actually do the job?

Louise: Sad, but true.

While Clinton clearly showed a side that demanded empathy in New Hampshire, that moment is already old news. There needs to be more if she wants th job.

Yet, Susan Faludi at The Huffington Post wishes we could turn from whether Hillary is a likable mom and focus on her competence as a woman who is done with her child-rearing years:

American society characterizes women as caregivers based on their young years as mothers. And when the American media demand emotion and warmth from Clinton, they are voicing the demand of a child to its mother (a demand not made equally to its father).

But there’s an entirely separate realm of female caretaking that is, in fact, more relevant to national leadership and to Clinton’s candidacy. Daughters shoulder the overwhelming burden of the care of our elderly parents. This too is a sphere of women’s experience, far more familiar to the women in the middle-to-older age bracket who supported Clinton most fervently, but its precepts are very different.

We know Clinton can embrace her inner Tracy Flick. But an article in the New York Times suggests that if Hillary is to succeed, she needs to find the right “blend of policy and persona.”

Her husband felt our pain. Americans wanted to have a beer with George Bush. There has to be something she can find, if she digs down deep that will resonate in that same way.

So what should her story be? At the age of 60, I have to believe she knows the “real” her. I am sure that beneath the wonk and circumstance, there is Hillary the mom, Hillary the girl, Hillary the real.

We’re a nation that’s become obsessed with Dr. Phil and finding our best selves. But that’s who are are at this moment in time — so it would probably be a good idea for Clinton to embrace that notion and run with it. Because there are still some people, including Alice at Wonderland, who think the tears were either fake or borne of self-pity:

I’m going to echo Maureen Dowd, and I never thought I’d say that: her tears are borne of self-pity. Is she crying for the death toll in Iraq? For the uninsured? Because those tears, I could get behind. No, she’s crying for her lost opportunity. That’s the moment she chose to show her vulnerable side. When her campaign was at stake.

If you want Chelsea to see you as the first female President of the United States, time’s a-wastin’. Time to write the story that’s going to work for the rest of the campaign.

Cross-posted from BlogHer.