These are strange times for Hillary Clinton.

Reportedly prepared to embrace and acknowledge the historic nature of her quest for the White House, this week candidate Clinton engaged in a particularly awkward and complicated political dance. Clinton, a second-wave feminist minted in Illinois and refined at Wellesley College and Yale Law School, is a former secretary of state, former senator and first lady who changed the rules of that last job, leading a contentious and ultimately failed effort to create a national health-care system during her husband's presidency. Clinton is a woman of substance. And, in South Carolina this week, she has been a woman eager to highlight her work ... to support, to assist and to aid Barack Obama in his own historic presidency.

Speaking to an audience of Democratic women in South Carolina on Wednesday -- many of whom the New York Times described as black -- Clinton joked about the at-times-rancorous 2008 South Carolina primary in which she faced then-candidate Obama. Then, she tried to make nice in a way that the campaign apparently believes will work.

“I went to work for him as secretary of state because he and I share many of the same positions about what should be done in the next presidency,” Clinton told the crowd, according to the New York Times.

Clinton, potentially the nation's first female president, was there to make it clear: She would be a good president because she supported and assisted Barack Obama and is ready to continue his work.

As the Times also noted, though, Clinton assiduously avoided any mentions of race or the nature of her 2008 campaign's clashes with the Obama camp. Back then, Bill Clinton angered some Obama supporters and some committed Democrats who were Clinton supporters when he described Obama's opposition to the Iraq war as “the biggest fairytale I've ever seen.” Hillary Clinton irritated some with comments that seemed to minimize the contributions of Martin Luther King Jr. to civil rights reforms and emphasized the role of President Lyndon B. Johnson instead.

Both Clintons have described the reaction to their comments as overblown, misinterpreted and taken out of context. They have denied that they contained any racial subtext.

But the comments were understood by some in South Carolina – where a substantial share of the electorate is African American, very differently. When the primary was over and Obama had won, longtime Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), who is black, told The New Yorker, "It's pretty widespread now that African Americans have lost a lot of respect for Bill Clinton."

That was the Clinton campaign that at least some of the Democratic women at Wednesday's event remembered when Clinton came to South Carolina this week and gave a speech using a Southern twang that caught a little attention. And it's against that backdrop that what Clinton had to say in South Carolina this week was less a concession to anyone's ideas about the proper or traditional role of women as it was to say, I know. Barack Obama won. I supported his agenda and did work for Obama around the world. I'm an ally. Now, I'd like to lead.

That work was necessary in South Carolina in a way that it probably won't be elsewhere, because of the 2008 controversy.