When she left the Obama administration, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she just wanted to sleep late and walk her dog. But that hasn't happened.
The once and possibly future presidential hopeful has thrown herself into the work of her family's foundation — which gives her the ability to add to an already formidable network of donors. The Ready for Hillary superPAC announced Wednesday that it has reached 1 million Facebook supporters. And Clinton has kept a packed public schedule of travel and speeches, including one Wednesday morning at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting.
"As women have been given or gained the chance to work, learn and participate, their economic, social and political contributions have multiplied," she said, but "for all this progress, we're still a long way from the goal of full and equal participation."
Full and equal participation? As in the first female president of the United States?
Even her most anodyne remarks are examined for possible clues.
Some Democrats lament the fact that Clinton has chosen to keep such a high profile so early, but the fact is, it's probably impossible for her to do anything else — because, as strategist Geoff Garin points out, everything she says gets a tremendous amount of attention, even if she says virtually nothing.
"The media mania about Hillary Clinton is not going to go away in the next year and a half," Garin says. "Everything she does and every move she makes will be overly analyzed and probably wrongly analyzed."
Another reality is the controversies big and small that follow the Clintons like a cloud of dust. There's Benghazi, of course; the messy finances of the Clinton foundation; a federal corruption investigation into one of her supporters; and the embarrassing spectacle of the failed New York City mayoral campaign of Anthony Weiner — her closest aide's husband.
But, says former Clinton press secretary Dee Dee Myers, it was ever thus.
"It's just a fact of life for the Clintons," she says. "I think that's something that Hillary has to take into consideration. Does she have the desire at this point in her life to get into the race and have that be the environment every single day, from the minute she declares to the minute she walks out of the White House, should she win?"
And there are past mistakes she will have to learn from if she runs. Her 2008 campaign operation was famously mismanaged, Myers says.
"The campaign was well-noted for a certain amount of dysfunction. She needs to get past that. I think she'll need a fresh team ... some fresh thinking in terms of strategy and tactics," Myers says. "The world has changed a lot — not in the last 20 years, but in the last eight years. She'll have to be ready to take advantage of that change, to understand it and to drive it."
She would also have to avoid being seen as running for a third Obama term or a restoration of the Clinton administration. In addition, says Democratic strategist Tad Devine, she would be trying to do something that's only been done once in the modern era: succeed a two-term president of the same party (as George H.W. Bush did).
"It's very difficult for any political party to come forward and ask for a third consecutive term. Particularly in these times, because our politics are so volatile, there's so much paralysis, people are demanding change in the way Washington works, and usually the only way to achieve that change is to vote out the party in power," Devine says. "She'll be faced with that obstacle."
Keeping herself part of today's political conversation is important for Clinton. Since she left the administration, she has weighed in on:
- Gay marriage: She's for it.
- Syria: She supports the president.
- Obamacare: She thinks the Republicans' attacks will backfire.
But Garin says that's all background noise compared with Clinton's much bigger task.
"The most important [thing] for Hillary Clinton is not her role in the political fights of the moment," Garin says. "What is most important is her take on the future and where the country needs to go from here."
She has some time to figure that out. But not forever. Clinton will probably need to announce her intentions in early 2015. And then — at 69 years old — begin to explain why she is the candidate of the future, not the past.
One thing she can count on: We'll all be listening.
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