Recently Hillary Clinton gave what appeared at first to be a rambling and unfocused answer when asked to name the proudest achievement of her four years as Secretary of State. The short version is, she doesn’t have one. But Clinton’s words make a lot more sense when seen not as a non-answer to a specific question, but as an effort to lay the foundation and establish a theme for a presidential campaign.
The occasion was her appearance on a panel discussion at the “Women in the World” meeting in Manhattan. It was pretty easy going; the moderator, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, asked softball after softball. (Sample: Noting Clinton’s daughter Chelsea, Friedman asked: “What have you learned from her?”)
Toward the end, Friedman turned to Clinton and said: “When you look at your time as Secretary of State, what are you most proud of, and what do you feel was unfinished, maybe love to have another crack at someday?”
Clinton and the audience laughed, because “another crack at someday” seemed an obvious back-door way of asking whether Clinton will run for president in 2016. But then she answered, and revealed something critically important about her intentions.
“Look, I really see my role as secretary, and in fact, leadership in general in a democracy, as a relay race,” Clinton said. “I mean, you run the best race you can run, you hand off the baton. Some of what hasn’t been finished may go on to be finished ...”
The answer seemed to concede that there is no single, momentous thing Clinton can point to as having achieved during her years as the nation’s top diplomat. As she went on, Clinton instead linked herself to President Obama’s achievements — at least the Democratic version of them — not in the field of foreign affairs, but at home.