ASPEN, Colo.—Is it a book tour? A pre-campaign? Something in between? Trying to decide what exactly Hillary Clinton is up to at the moment has been something of a parlor—or green-room—game.
During a Facebook Live session at the Aspen Ideas Festival, sponsored by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic, the former secretary of state seemed to carefully straddle that line for the first 45 minutes, and she almost robotically found ways to use the title of her memoir, Hard Choices—nine times, by my count. Then moderator Walter Isaacson asked Clinton about the Supreme Court’s hours-old Hobby Lobby decision, and suddenly she came alive, delivering a fiery and impassioned reply.
“I disagree with the reasoning as well as the conclusion,” Clinton said, almost before Isaacson had his question out. “I find it deeply disturbing.”
This wasn’t the wishy-washy Hillary her detractors portray, a consummate, triangulating politician trying to play both sides of the issue. It was a true-believing liberal standard-bearer, drawing on her work in the cabinet to illuminate what's happening in America today.
“Part of the reason I was so adamant about including women and girls [in State Department efforts] is that they’re often the canaries in the mine,” Clinton explained. “It is a disturbing trend that you see in a lot of societies that are unstable, anti-democratic, and prone to extremism. Women’s bodies are used as the defining and unifying issue to bring together people—men—to get them to behave in ways that are disadvantageous to women but prop up rulers.”
Now, she said, something similar was happening in the United States, where religion was worming its way into government. “Many more companies will claim religious beliefs. Some will be sincere, others maybe not. We’re going to see this one insurable service cut out for many women,” she said. “This is a really bad, slippery slope.”
Clinton wasn’t done comparing the contemporary situation to theocratic societies. A few moments later, while discussing the persistent gridlock in Washington, she said anyone whose platform to run for office was a refusal to compromise ought to be disqualified from office. “That’s the kind of language I heard from people in 112 countries, where they believed they had a direct line to the supreme leader or the divine.”
It was Clinton at her best: speaking on an issue clearly dear to her heart and able to use her lengthy experience in government to help illuminate the issue. It was also the moment at which she seemed most clearly to be a presidential candidate. And the crowd in Aspen certainly seemed to be ready for Hillary.
Meanwhile, Clinton seemed to be taking pains to distinguish herself, however carefully, from President Obama. On Syria, she noted that there had been differences in opinion on how to initially handle the rebellion against Assad. She noted that she and others had favored vetting rebels for ties to terror and then aiding those who passed; she hardly needed to note, though she did, that Obama has only just now come around to that position. And discussing political dysfunction, she delivered a mild rebuke to those who say socializing with and talking to Republican leaders is pointless.