Hillary Clinton and the Art of Suspense

hillary clintonHillary Clinton has been an icon for women in politics for many years. After a hard stint as First Lady of the united States and terms as New York Senator and then Secretary of State, she has well-earned the political credentials she possesses, but now she has a new role: master of suspense. As pundits and reporters nationwide are speculating about a 2016 run for president, Hillary Clinton has herself stayed mum about the possibility, proving that she is both a canny political operator and a master of the art of suspense.

At a keynote speech in Las Vegas on Thursday, a woman in the audience threw a shoe at the former-First Lady who was speaking to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. The flying shoe missed Clinton by a good margin, prompting her to joke that it was lucky the woman had not played softball as she had. Other than revealing a good sense of humor, the incident also revealed how unflappable the experience politician is.

This was only the most interesting in a long string of moments that required Clinton to keep her composure, but despite the ridiculous nature of the moment, it was easier for her to deal with than another, more adorable moment. In Portland, Oregon this week a 6-year-old student at an elementary school asked her whether she would rather be called “Madam President or Mrs. President” in 2016, ostensibly when she wins the election. This brought enthusiastic support from the crowd, who proved itself receptive of a presidential run, but it seemed to flummox Clinton herself. Nevertheless, she erred on the side of caution, approaching the podium as if to speak, then backing away and waving as she left the stage. In the moment of “will she or won’t she” wondering, Hillary Clinton is apparently quite happy to leave everyone in suspense.

Silence is golden, but she has been far from silent on the issue of a possible run. Other than the strategic non-answer she gave at the Portland elementary school, Clinton has used her words and comments not to confirm a run, but to add even more speculation about it. At a conference in San Francisco, she said that she was “thinking about it,” the most positive comment she has given on the issue to date. She also said that she was enjoying private life very much, which added to her reticence to confirm a run for president in 2016. Such an announcement would effectually launch her completely back in to public life and it is understandable how a woman who has been so in the public eye for over 20 years would enjoy some time as a more-or-less private citizen.

Nevertheless, Clinton has not completely secreted herself away from the public. She has had a variety of public speaking engagements since leaving the office of Secretary of State under Democratic President Barack Obama. After running against him in the Democratic primary in 2008, she was poised to exit politics, but as she herself said, the charming and persistent Obama was able to convince her become Secretary of State and delay a return to civilian living. Now that no one, not even the president, has charmed her, she has for the most part remained private, despite a myriad of public appearances such as the one in Las Vegas with the fashionable projectile.

This would mean that her decision to not quite leave politics completely was a decision of her own making, which definitely points to her considerations of another run at the White House. It is difficult to get a good read on the cagey Clinton, but if anything points to a political campaign, this might. Clinton is known for making up her own mind about things, making this situation a relatively familiar one. The pressure to run, however, is growing as people all over the nation are largely supportive of the idea.

In Iowa, for instance, 50 percent of all Iowans think another run is a good idea. Democrats are of course the most supportive with over 80 percent favoring her as the Democratic nominee. That is a 30 percent advantage over Vice-President Joe Biden, who has also been floated as a possible candidate. But unlike Biden, who is notoriously gaffe prone, Clinton has a solid base of conduct and record to launch a campaign from, no doubt contributing to Iowan support. Moreover, she has the best polling against any of the possible Republican candidates, beating all of them in the polls by at least 10 percent. She is even beating New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, embroiled now in a scandal over “Bridgegate,” showing a swing from widespread Iowan support for the Republican governor towards Clinton herself. All in all, Clinton is looking like the strongest possible candidate out of either party for 2016.

At the moment, the suspense is killing everyone who is engaged on the topic. A report confirming her run would be the biggest political story of the blossoming presidential campaign season and is a coveted possibility. But Hillary Clinton herself is quite happy to practice the art of suspense, neither over-playing her hand nor under-playing it, even engaging the media on its practices to date.

Certain of her comments reveal her thoughts about that relationship between the media and women, no doubt drawing on her experience as a woman in the public eye. She noted that there is a double-standard for women operating in the public sphere and that the situation is aggravated by the media. She counseled any young women looking to enter politics or any other public service to play what she called an “inside and outside game.” She said that meant being inside the system, while raising issues regarding women as an outsider to it and trying to change minds instead of scoring a point. Clinton herself is known for doing just that as she has commented time and again on the nature of the glass ceiling, all while operating as a major political force and becoming one of only three women to become the American Secretary of State, the highest political office any woman has ever achieved.

It is not clear whether comments like this are directed at paving a way for a possible 2016 presidential campaign, but it might point to a possible line of attack should she decide to run. The concept of media bias against women could be an issue in that campaign and she has already shown a facility in dealing with it. Moreover, Clinton will be releasing a book in June, a memoir about her time as Secretary of State. Book releases often presage a candidate’s run for the White House. Ted Cruz, a possible Republican nominee, will also be releasing a book, rumored to be contracted at 1.5 million dollars. The similar strategy for the two politicians is notable in that they are both rumored to be preparing presidential campaigns.

Declining to answer questions on a possible run, support from Iowa, discussing women in the media, and a book deal – these are signs of a possible presidential run, but Clinton herself has confirmed nothing. With poise and a good amount of humor, she has done nothing to relieve the intense speculation and has actually managed to ramp it up to level 11. She has engaged in a strategy of silence that has not only helped preserve her private life, but has proved that Hillary Clinton is a master in the art of suspense.

Opinion By Lydia Webb


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