6 Presidential-Campaign Themes Hillary Clinton Is Test-Driving

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Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses a gala celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Center for American Progress on Oct. 24, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

Hillary Clinton only spoke for a few minutes Thursday night, beside stone columns lit with red and blue lights, and before an iPhone-toting crowd that had gathered to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Center for American Progress. But her words were unmistakably those of a politician who had not yet retired from the electoral game.

She criticized Congress for “careening from crisis to crisis instead of having a plan” and attacked the “scorched earth” politics of the modern age. She praised progressives for pushing “the cause of affordable, quality health care for every American back on the national agenda,” and spoke of her many decades in the trenches of politics. “At the end of the Clinton Administration,” she said, “I knew that if we didn’t have an infrastructure in place to continue to build on what had been accomplished and to hold the line on any efforts at retrenchment, we would not be doing our job.”

It has been like this for months now. Clinton, who claims not to have decided about another presidential run in 2016, has been traveling the country delivering speeches on her own record and current events that sound a lot like precursors to campaign rhetoric. The fact that she is not officially running has not stopped her from testing out themes on the stump, while positioning herself against her likely Republican opponents. The examples show up on both sides of the Atlantic, in paid speeches, at awards dinners, rallies and fundraisers.


Here are six examples that could form the backbone of a 2016 campaign:

1. Economic inequality. Like the Obama campaign’s focus in 2012, Clinton has talked in recent weeks on the growing gap between the nation’s wealthiest and poorest. Accepting an award from her alma mater, Yale Law School, Clinton said in a wide-ranging address that the nation must “reverse this tide of inequality that is eating away at the social fabric of our country.”

2. Youth empowerment. When she left the State Department, she launched the “too small to fail” initiative focused on early-childhood development and education through the newly renamed Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation. “Our country’s future depends on healthy kids and loving families. They’re the building blocks of a strong and prosperous society,” she said in the video launching the new program. Such messages have long been a theme for Clinton — who produced a book called It Takes a Village — and it has the added theme of deepening her appeal to the female vote.

3. Selfless ambition. Clinton has never been one to run from the clichés of American electoral politics, and while stumping for Virginia gubernatorial candidate and former campaign co-chair Terry McAuliffe, she fully embraced the classic archetype of the do-good political martyr, willing to selflessly give of herself. “When you think about why people run for office in these times — if it’s only about yourself, if it’s only about you wanting to get a job and the perks that go with it, and having people stand up when you come into the room, that’s not enough anymore because it’s hard,” she told the crowd. “Politics is hard.”

4. The Washington outsider. No one can run for national office these days without running against the seat of national political power, even when a member of her own party occupies the White House. At the same McAuliffe rally, she hit on this point as well. “Recently in Washington, unfortunately, we have seen examples of the wrong kind of leadership, when politicians choose scorched earth instead of common ground,” she added. “When they operate in what I call the ‘evidence-free zone,’ with ideology trumping everything else.”

5. Civility. On Wednesday facing a heckler during a speech at the University of Buffalo, Clinton said the future “doesn’t include yelling … it includes sitting down and talking.” She was rewarded with an extended standing ovation. Speaking earlier this month at Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, in London, Clinton responded to a question about the National Security Agency’s controversial surveillance programs, calling for a more open discussion of the spying efforts. “We need to have a sensible adult conversation about what is necessary to be done, and how to do it, in a way that is as transparent as it can be, with as much oversight and citizens’ understanding as there can be,” she said.

6. International experience. Her speeches are often colored by anecdotes from her four years of travels on behalf of the Obama Administration. At Chatham House she told of a phone call between Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng after Clinton and other U.S. officials helped him leave China with his family. “He called me from the van on the way to the hospital and said, ‘If I were there, I would kiss you,’” Clinton recalled.