The speech, centered on educational and economic empowerment, echoed many of the Obama administration’s top priorities and suggested some of the possible themes that Clinton could use in a presidential campaign, should she decide to run.
“This can’t just be a conversation about Washington; we all need to do our part,” Clinton said at the meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative America. “We have to prove again to ourselves, as well as to the rest of the world, that our public and private sectors can work together to find common ground for the common good.”
Clinton voiced praise for many of the issues high on Obama’s agenda, including expansion of pre-kindergarten programs and equal pay for women. The remarks signaled that she intends to remain aligned with her former boss and rival from the 2008 Democratic presidential primaries.
But Clinton also struck a gloomy note on some economic issues, seemingly at odds with the preferred White House message. She decried high unemployment among young people, the decaying state of cities, and pockets of economic and educational inequality in areas such as rural West Virginia.
“In too many places in our own country, community institutions are crumbling, social and public-health indicators are cratering, and jobs are coming apart,” Clinton said.
Clinton also spoke of “overcoming the lines that divide us — whether it’s partisan, cultural, geographic.” She said one of the lessons she learned traveling the world is that, regardless of where she went, “what people wanted was a good job.”
Although Clinton made no direct reference to her political future, one comment she made drew knowing applause from several hundred conference attendees. Calling opportunities for women and girls “the great unfinished business of this century,” Clinton said, “When women participate in politics, the effects ripple out across society.”
The issues Clinton said she would work on are hardly new to her agenda; she has focused on childhood development, girls’ and women’s empowerment and economic development throughout her time in public life, beginning as first lady of Arkansas.
“It’s been her life’s work,” said Jill Alper, a longtime Democratic strategist. “These have always been core concerns.”
Yet by dedicating the next period in her life to the issues, Clinton is suggesting that she sees unfinished business from the presidencies of her husband and Obama.
Steve Elmendorf, another Democratic strategist, said Clinton is smart to focus her energies on those issues rather than rejoining Washington political debates.