By Maeve Reston, Los Angeles Times
The world may have to wait until 2015 for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s decision on whether she runs again for president, but the last 48 hours have offered a preview in miniature of what that campaign would look like — with all its advantages and burdens.
With Tuesday’s splashy publication of her new memoir, “Hard Choices,” Clinton demonstrated the unprecedented attention she would draw, with wall-to-wall coverage on every television network in which she tossed off zingers and parried unwanted questions.
Hours before she breezed onto the set of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” breathless fans were lined up for blocks around a bookstore in New York’s Union Square (some having waited since Monday) in hopes of getting orange wristbands that would give them a chance to have their copies signed in person.
But the downside of the heavy scrutiny was also apparent. The former secretary of State was drilled in television interviews on the Benghazi, Libya, controversy, which threatens to shadow her potential bid for office, as she was pressed repeatedly to admit that she had made a mistake leading up to the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound, in which four Americans, including an ambassador, were killed.
And she was already cleaning up a clumsy assertion in a prime-time ABC special that aired Monday that she and her husband, President Bill Clinton, were “dead broke” when they left the White House and had struggled to come up with the money for multiple mortgages and their daughter’s education. Although they had incurred millions in legal fees, each also is a bestselling author, and Bill received a pension and Hillary a U.S. Senate salary.
“Let me just clarify that I fully appreciate how hard life is for so many Americans today,” Clinton told ABC’s Robin Roberts, after Republican critics had disseminated photographs of the Clintons’ five-bedroom house on D.C.’s Embassy Row and their spread in Chappaqua, N.Y. “It’s an issue that I’ve worked on and cared about my entire adult life.” And, as the video below shows, Clinton again had to clarify what she meant by her comments when speaking to her old pal and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Pushing back against Republican attempts to paint her as out of touch, Clinton detailed how both she and her husband had worked multiple jobs to pay off student loans, and said her husband’s experience growing up poor had made him a “hard worker.”
“We have a life experience that is clearly different, in very dramatic ways, from many Americans, but we also have gone through some of the same challenges,” she said on ABC.
Her misstep also illustrated what even her allies have said for months: After four years largely outside the political fray, Clinton needs practice. And the practice that the book tour can offer may be even more important since she has essentially frozen out Democratic rivals, whose challenges might otherwise have helped her sharpen her arguments.
With Clinton’s announcement months off, her memoir serves as a suggestion of what her campaign might emphasize. “Hard Choices” is an exhaustive account of her tenure as secretary of State, with colorful anecdotes that establish her gravitas, her foreign policy credentials and her command of issues around the world.
Early on, Clinton outlines what some have called the “Hillary Doctrine” when she writes that she combined elements of the traditional foreign policy approach of “hard power,” or military force, and the “soft power” of diplomacy. She defines her strategy as finding “the right combination of tools — diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal and cultural — for each situation.”
The administration’s approach to Iran, she writes, exemplified that style: using economic sanctions to cut Iran off from the global economy and using social media to communicate with Iranians as they pursued “old-fashioned shoe-leather diplomacy” to advance U.S. objectives.
By far the chapter that has drawn the most attention is Clinton’s account of the terrorist attack in Benghazi. She says the events unfolded in the “fog of war” and that the administration did everything it could to save U.S. personnel. But she disputes the notion that she should have seen cables requesting enhanced security in Libya. They were addressed to the secretary of State as a “procedural quirk,” she said.
“I’m not equipped to sit and look at blueprints to determine where the blast walls need to be or where the reinforcements need to be. That’s why we hire people who have that expertise,” Clinton told Diane Sawyer in the prime-time interview.
Pressed by Sawyer on whether Americans were waiting for a statement from her on Benghazi that begins with “I should have … “ Clinton crisply cut off that line of inquiry. “I take responsibility. But I was not making security decisions,” she said.
Although Clinton’s book does not delve into the details of her marriage the way her first memoir did, the issue clearly continues to be a topic of fascination with the public.
In her interview with Sawyer, she testified to the strength of her marriage and dismissed the re-emergence of her husband’s one-time paramour, former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
“I am 100 percent in the camp that says forgiveness is mostly about the forgiver. I know too many people, having now lived as long as I have, who can never get over it,” Clinton said.
The former first lady added that Lewinsky was free to say what she pleased and that she hoped she would “construct a life that she finds meaning and satisfaction in.”
Clinton seemed to almost dare her rivals to continue using the topic against her as political ammunition. When told by Sawyer that Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul had called it “fair game,” Clinton coolly replied that “if he decides to run, he’ll be fair game, too, for everybody.”
That steeliness is, in part, what has inspired the loyalty of supporters like Holly Vichers of New York, who lined up at 6:30 a.m. to get her copy of “Hard Choices” signed and hopes to see Clinton as the next president.
“You need someone up there who’s not afraid to take on the world,” she said.
Video via NDN