Bye State Department, Hello White House?

Patricio Navia

Buenos Aires Herald, February 5, 2013


The end of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s four year term as Secretary of State is much more symbolic because it represents her first day as the presumptive front leading presidential candidate in the Democratic Party to succeed Barack Obama. Although Hillary’s legacy in the State Department is less than stellar, the way she conducted herself during her four years as America’s leading diplomat only confirm that the wife of the popular former 42nd President of the United States has never abandoned her plans to become the first woman president of the United States.  


The Illinois native Hillary Rodham Clinton was born in 1947. She will turn 69 ten days before Americans vote to elect Barack Obama’s successor in 2016. Hillary—as people call her perhaps to distinguish her from her husband, whom she married in 1975—is a late member of the baby-boom generation. After she married fellow Yale Law School classmate Bill Clinton, Hillary settled in Arkansas to build her own professional career as her husband eventually became governor of the state.  When she became first lady, she was the first woman to occupy that post that had to give up a successful professional and independent career because of potential conflicts of interests with being the president’s wife.


If Clinton were to be elected President, she would be the second consecutive White House occupant from the State of Illinois. Although Barack Obama is a native of Hawaii, he began his political career in Chicago.  Hillary is a native of Illinois, but she has never held elected office in that state. After moving to the White House with her husband, Hillary became a very politically active first lady. Her failed attempt at negotiating a health care bill in Congress in 1993 made her a polarizing figure.  When revelations about Bill Clinton’s marital infidelities surfaced, Hillary received sympathy and admiration for the way she handled the scandal.  When Clinton was finishing his second term, Hillary was already a very popular first lady. Few were surprised when she announced a run for the Senate representing New York.


Hillary’s victory in November of 2000 contrasted with Al Gore’s failure to keep the White House in the hands of the Democrats. Though Gore did win the popular vote, the fact that he had distanced himself from Bill Clinton was widely seen as a big political mistake.  On election night, Gore was the big loser, while the Clintons continued to enjoy political power, though Hillary—and no longer Bill—would be the standard-bearer of America’s most influential political couple.  As a senator, Hillary worked hard to gain the respect of her peers. She also made some difficult and controversial decisions. After the September 11 attacks, Hillary fully supported President Bush’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Though she considered challenging Bush in 2004, she declined to seek her party’s presidential nomination.  But in 2006, Hillary was already campaigning hard for the 2008 election.  As the early favorite, Hillary secured the support of many Democratic governors and legislators.  She was considered by many as a shoe-in for the democratic nomination. But the rapid rise of Barack Obama, a first term senator from Illinois, ended frustrating her plans.  Hillary was defeated by Obama in a close, long, and sometimes nasty, primary battle.  After his election, Obama surprised everyone, including her, by asking Hillary to become his Secretary of State.  Hillary Clinton was swiftly approved by the Senate and served four years with dedication and discipline. 


Her term as Secretary of State perfectly summarizes her style, her attitude to taking risks and her management style.Her critics argue that she did not score any overwhelming victories during her term.  Her sympathizers argue that she made constant and gradual progress in almost all areas under her watch and that, consistent with her style and reputation, she made no evident mistakes nor suffered any major setbacks. That is her style and that is why she has evolved to stay as the most important woman in American politics for the past ten years.


Now that she has left office, Hillary Clinton will have enough time to prepare for her second try at the Democratic nomination. She is older than in 2008, but she has many more friends and allies, raises fewer concerns among her adversaries and generates far less animosity than when she first ran in the 2008 primaries. Hillary Clinton will most likely run for the presidency in 2016. Though Obama taught her that being the early front runner is no guarantee of success—and even if she wins the nomination, there will be a tough race against the Republican nominee—Hillary Clinton will be a stronger, wiser and more prepared candidate in 2016 than she was in 2008. Only a candidate that can generate as much enthusiasm as Obama did in 2008 will be able to take the Democratic nomination away from her. Unfortunately for all those who are considering challenging Hillary, the enthusiasm she generates among her old and new supporters is also much stronger now than in 2008.