President Clinton? Hillary's memoir hints at 2016 run

President Clinton? Hillary's memoir hints at 2016 run

WASHINGTON - Six years ago this month, pundits were ready to write Mrs Hillary Clinton's political obituary, after she lost the Democratic presidential nomination to Mr Barack Obama.

But the fiercely competitive former first lady took comfort in the 18 million votes she received along the way, and likened them to 18 million cracks in the "highest, hardest glass ceiling" - the United States presidency, which no woman has yet won.

Recalling how she struggled to pen her concession speech that night on June 7, 2008, Mrs Clinton writes in Hard Choices, a new memoir released last week: "I went back and forth with speechwriters and advisers seeking the right tone and language.

"Jim Kennedy, an old friend with a magic touch for evocative language, had woken up in the middle of the night thinking about how the 18 million people who had voted for me had each added a hole in the glass ceiling. That gave me something to build on."

Then, as is the case today, she left open the possibility of returning one day to break it completely. Mrs Clinton insists in her new book that she has not made up her mind about running for the 2016 presidential election. But she leaves plenty of clues.

Speaking of a recent conversation she had with her husband, the former secretary of state says the challenge of the next president "is to lead in a way that unites us again and renews the American Dream. That's the bar and it's a high one."

She adds: "We both know I have a big decision in front of me."

Though she is non-committal, there is an air of inevitability surrounding Mrs Clinton's chances of becoming the Democratic nominee. No other name is being uttered as energetically as hers, and she is leading all hypothetical polls of likely 2016 candidates.

Her carefully crafted memoir, which methodically recounts the way she handled multiple foreign policy challenges as the top US diplomat, is bound to burnish her image as a leader and trailblazer, pundits say.

As secretary of state under President Obama from 2009 to last year, she is best known for clocking nearly 1.6 million km while travelling to 112 countries. Initial reviews of Hard Choices have panned the book for playing it safe, but there are enough clues to deduce her foreign policy priorities and the kind of leadership style she would adopt if she won the White House.

For one thing, she sees human rights as a source of power for the US, particularly in Asia. She devotes considerable space to what she saw as her role in encouraging reform in Myanmar, and in securing the freedom of blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, who escaped house arrest in Shandong province and sought refuge at the US embassy in Beijing in 2012.

She also tries to demonstrate her mastery of quiet diplomacy. For instance, when courts in Saudi Arabia refused a mother's pleas regarding the marriage of an eight-year-old girl to a man aged 50, Mrs Clinton told the Saudis: "Fix this on your own and I won't say a word." A new Saudi judge soon approved a divorce.

Through it all, Mrs Clinton says she had to face criticism and remarks that no man would ever have to put up with. "There is a persistent double standard applied to women in politics - regarding clothes, body types, and of course hairstyles - that you can't let derail you. Smile and keep going," she says.

She recalls being asked during a trip to India about the media's preoccupation with how she looks on her travels. She would often show up in foreign capitals wearing glasses and no make up.

Her response: "I feel so relieved to be at the stage I'm at in my life right now... because if I want to wear my glasses, I'm wearing my glasses. If I want to pull my hair back, I'm pulling my hair back."

Mrs Clinton jokes that of all the rejected titles for her book, her favourite one is The Scrunchie Chronicles: 112 Countries And It's Still All About My Hair.

This relaxed but battle-hardened image is one that she will likely take into the 2016 presidential campaign - if she runs.

jeremyau@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 17, 2014.
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