Hillary Clinton, 18 million cracks and the power of making history

June 13, 2013

Hillary Clinton made one thing very clear in a speech Thursday at the Clinton Global Initiative in Chicago: If she runs for president in 2016, the history-making nature of that bid will be front and center in her campaign.


"When women participate in politics, the effects ripple out across all of society," Hillary Clinton proclaimed. She also called expanding opportunities for women and girls as "the great unfinished business of this century."

Yes, Clinton was speaking about her priorities at CGI, not about her own political plans. But, with Clinton leaving the door wide open to speculation about her next move, it's impossible to separate any public statement she makes from the possibility of her running for president in 2016.

And Clinton's assertion of the history-making power of women running for office stands in stark contrast to how she positioned herself when she ran for president in 2008.

In that race, she focused heavily on her readiness for the job and her lengthy resume. But, many of her supporters watched in frustration as then Sen. Barack Obama seized the mantle of history-maker while Clinton talked little about how she, too, would have made history as the first woman to win a major party's presidential nomination.

The result? Obama became the candidate of change and history; Clinton became the more-of-the-same, politics-as-usual candidate. Only when Clinton dropped out of the race in the summer of 2008 did she embrace the history she would have been making had she won.

"Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it," she said. "And the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time."

If there is a next time, you can be sure that given her last name and her decades spent in the national spotlight, her Democratic opponents will try to take a page out of the Obama playbook by casting her as a figure of the past at a time when the country needs to move forward.

Clinton's best way to combat that attack is to focus on how she actually represents the biggest break with the past of anyone in the field. Her comments today suggest that, if she runs in 2016, she won't repeat the mistakes of her 2008 bid.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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