This Was Hillary Clinton's Week—and Her Moment Is Just Beginning

Since leaving Foggy Bottom, she has positioned herself as an icon of women's empowerment. That makes another White House run even more important and likely.
Lucas Jackson/Reuters

President Obama gave a major foreign-policy address to the UN on Tuesday, and Ted Cruz held the Senate hostage with his symbolic non-filibuster. But the week really belonged to Hillary Clinton.

If this week proved anything, it’s that her presidential candidacy is pretty much inevitable, not only because of who she is and what she has done over the past decade, but also because of its historic import. After years of controversy and endless jibes about her hair, clothing, and manner, she has succeeded in becoming a transformational, touchstone figure not only in politics but American culture.

The annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, timed to coincide with the UN General Assembly’s opening session, was held in New York this week; after his UN speech, Obama stopped by the convocation to explain the Obamacare rollout in a conversation with Bill Clinton, and the former secretary of state introduced them. The CGI attracted even more important international political and business leaders than the UN, and the Clintons are on a first-name basis with all of them.

Hillary Clinton, who turned out to be the star of the CGI event, outshone both the past and present occupants of the Oval Office. In her remarks she said she plans to spend the next year focusing on empowering women by assessing and fostering global equality. As the world’s most visible and well-known icon of women’s achievement she is not only poised for the job but a symbol of what remains to be done. Clinton, who lists one of her accomplishments on her Twitter account as “glass ceiling cracker,” tweeted in July: “Seneca Falls, 165 years ago today, began a movement that remains the unfinished business of the 21st century.” The not-so-subtle message: That unfinished business is electing a woman to the White House -- finally.

The two sides of the Clinton legacy, and the challenges she might face in a presidential run, are exemplified by two magazine cover stories out this week. Clinton gave her first major interview since stepping down as secretary of state to New York, which resulted in a glowing 3,000-word cover profile. Meanwhile, The New Republic published an article about Doug Band, Bill Clinton’s right-hand man since leaving the White House, which alleged Band had engaged in self-serving, unsavory behavior in promoting his own business interests using contacts he cultivated through the former president.

The TNR article, along with frequent Maureen Dowd columns, focus on the drama of the Clintons – money, sex, and power. Liberals as well as conservatives love to fret and fume about this and the dueling cover stories are another reminder that with the Clintons you get not only star quality but also a touch of sleaze.

But what the Clinton critics just don’t seem to get is that the drama doesn’t really matter anymore. Maybe the media hasn’t gotten over it. But the American people, outside of the diehard Clinton haters, have. Through talking with voters around the country, I’ve found most Americans don’t really care about the Clintons’ financial dealings. They think that’s pretty much politics as usual, and that most politicians engage in some variation. What Americans care about is who can get things done for them and the country -- and who, to borrow a phrase, feels their pain.

The Clintons score on both counts. Most Americans, especially those in the middle class, remember the Clinton years as the last time they really felt good about their lives and their futures. Exhibit A is Bill Clinton’s Democratic National Convention speech – the most successful of any given during the 2012 campaign. It moved the needle for Obama and made the case for his reelection in a way he couldn’t seem to make for himself, a fact reflected in polling after both speeches.

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Linda Killian is a Washington journalist and a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Her book The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents was published in January 2012 by St. Martin's Press.

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