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Sunday 22 June 2014


Hillary's publicising her strong political credentials

She pretends she hasn't decided on running, but presidential nomination is surely hers now

IN THE HOUSE: Hillary Clinton on the Truman Balcony of the White House in December 1998. Photo: 'Vogue'/Annie Leibovitz
IN THE HOUSE: Hillary Clinton on the Truman Balcony of the White House in December 1998. Photo: 'Vogue'/Annie Leibovitz

As others have pointed out, the question isn't "Will Hillary Clinton run for the presidency?" It's "Will Hillary Clinton stop running for the presidency?"

She's been running for it since birth. A driven Illinois child imbued with the Methodist work ethic that distinguished Margaret Thatcher, she was already excelling at lessons and sports when, at 13, she started political canvassing. Her family was Republican, but in the late 1960s, as a political science major at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, she was gradually drawn towards Democrats by such issues as civil rights and Vietnam.

In 1969 – an academically successful and well-regarded moderate student activist – she achieved some public recognition for a courageous commencement speech: some contemporaries began tipping her as the first woman president.

Then came Yale Law School and, in 1971, the brilliant, charismatic Bill Clinton, who three years later persuaded this ambitious feminist lawyer to abandon a glittering future in law and politics in Washington to live with him in Arkansas, where in 1976 he was elected Attorney-General.

By the time he won the governorship, they were married and Hillary was a partner in a major law firm and had won a reputation as an innovator in the field of children's rights.

Although she was the prime bread-winner, as Arkansas First Lady (1979-1981, 1983-92) Hillary was also a political activist and mother of Chelsea. Appointed by her husband to a job reforming state public education, she won a ferocious battle with the unions. She would also save Bill's presidential campaign in 1992 when national media began to run with sexual scandals.

Bill had promised that in electing him in 1992, the US would get "two for one": he appointed her to sort out healthcare reform. But Washington was much bigger and more treacherous than Arkansas and she lost the political battle and with it her initial popularity. Many long years of hard work and good behaviour, several Bill embarrassments and innumerable enemies later, in 2001 Hillary took up a new job as New York's first female Senator.

The Democratic presidential nomination was in the bag when the junior Senator from Illinois, an unknown law professor and one-time Chicago activist with an indifferent record as a state senator, was able to steal it from her because he was young, handsome, smart and baggage-free and an orator who inspired tens of millions at home and abroad to believe in the rhetoric of hope. And his being of mixed race cancelled out the novelty value she had as a woman.

The resilient old trouper that is Hillary announced she'd be dedicating herself to New York, before being persuaded to become Obama's Secretary of State. "Our rivalry, once fierce, was over," she writes in her new book, Hard Choices.

"Now we were partners."

Er, yes. Up to a point. What seems to have defined their relationship was that during her four years of hard graft, Hillary rushed around the world (112 countries and almost a million miles) while Obama sat in his office weighing up options and postponing decisions. The Clintons were privately bewildered by him. While they agreed with such policies as healthcare reform and economic stimulus measures, Bill couldn't understand his loathing of the necessary business of dealing with people. "He thinks that Obama gets all the hard stuff right but doesn't do the easy stuff at all," said one colleague.

Relieved of the horrendous problems facing her successor, John Kerry, Hillary is free to pursue the next stage in her long aspirational war. Can she do it this time?

Well, as of now, the Democratic nomination is sewn up and the Republican Party is fragmented, but Hillary is 66 and another fresh face could turn up. As she tours the country ostensibly marketing this dull and committee-written book, what she's really doing is publicising her remarkable political credentials. She doesn't tell us what she really thinks of the chilly man in the White House who doesn't seem to enjoy the job she thinks was rightfully hers, and she's pretending she hasn't decided if she should run, but the book talks much of the importance of experience, wisdom, decisiveness and getting on with people while being tough: "I occasionally ditched the diplomatic talking points and said exactly what was on my mind, whether it was telling off the leader of North Korea or pushing the Pakistanis on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. But I no longer had much patience for walking on eggshells."

Disobliging people point out that her record on foreign policy is short on real achievement and that she'll never be an inspirational speaker, but maybe the American people – thoroughly disillusioned with Obama – are ready this time, in Hilaire Belloc's words, to "keep a-hold of nurse, for fear of finding something worse".

Ruth Dudley Edwards

© Ruth Dudley Edwards