Where Hillary Clinton Is Most in Her Element

At Georgetown, Clinton could speak freely about women's economic inequality without fear of immediate reprisal.

Hillary Clinton doesn't want to talk about politics, and that's perfectly fine—for now.

Speaking at Georgetown University on Thursday, Clinton addressed women's economic empowerment.

She told a story about a trip she made to India with a group of economists. Clinton said she noticed many women were working in the street markets or hauling water.

"How do you evaluate women's contributions to the economy?" she recalled asking. One economist responded that they didn't because women don't participate in the formal economy.

"What would happen if women stopped working in the informal economy?" Clinton asked, and suggested that the economy would screech to a halt.

"Well, yes, that is a point," the economist replied. The Georgetown audience laughed at the anecdote.

The anecdote dovetails nicely with Clinton's semi-new stump-speech thesis: that by empowering women across the economic spectrum, the world succeeds.

It's an argument echoed in her speeches for female candidates like Martha Coakley, Jeanne Shaheen, Staci Appel, and Mary Burke. At an event for Coakley on Monday, Clinton made an economic observation that got her in some trouble.

"Don't let anybody tell you it's corporations and businesses that create jobs," she said. "You know that old theory—trickle-down economics. That has been tried; that has failed. It has failed rather spectacularly."

Republicans like Sen. Rand Paul quickly seized upon the comment, linking it to President Obama's much-derided "you didn't build that" comment from 2012.

"Hillary Clinton says, 'Well, businesses don't create jobs,'" Paul told a crowd in Kansas on Tuesday. "Anybody believe that?" The crowd roared its disagreement.

But back at Georgetown, speaking to a women's economic forum, Hillary Clinton is absolutely in her element, her public safe space. Even at the Democratic National Committee Women's Leadership Forum, Clinton's performance sounded more like a paid advertisement for the Democratic Party than a speech she truly cared about. At Georgetown, she could be as pragmatic and professorial as she wanted.

This is not to say she's avoiding the plebs as she seeks their political favor. Ruby Cramer reports that while visiting Iowa on Wednesday, Clinton worked the crowds, "calling out individual [Bruce] Braley volunteers by name to thank them, making time for an unannounced stop at a restaurant in Iowa City, and joking about that special kind of devotion to presidential politics for which the early-voting state is known."

As one of the most famous politicians in the country, it's difficult to not become isolated from mainstream American life. It's easy to seek solitude at the Congressional Country Club, as Newt and Callista Gingrich often do, or simply remain on your ranch and paint portraits of your dog. It would be so easy for Hillary Clinton to simply sink into the jacuzzi of liberal intellectualism, leading micro-finance programs in third-world countries and giving commencement speeches when she wants to. But no matter how uncomfortable Clinton may be with the glad-handing, eating at diners in Iowa, and pretending to care about local unions, she's not going to settle for an easy retirement.

After her Georgetown speech ended, Clinton was hustled out the door to a campaign event for Anthony Brown, a Democrat running for governor of Maryland. If Clinton and her fellow Democrats only had to persuade liberal intellectuals at elite coastal universities to vote for them, they'd have nothing to worry about come Tuesday. As it stands, the midterm campaign trail is not such a safe space.