Nah, Hillary Clinton isn’t running for president.
Sure, just about everybody who gathered Tuesday night at the National Constitution Center to see Clinton receive the Liberty Medal expects to see her run—the out-of-town media that gathered, the extra-supportive crowd, and just about everybody who got up on stage to sing her praises clearly expect it.
“I think Secretary Clinton is going to be in Des Moines next week,” said Jeb Bush, referencing Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses. (To be fair, Jeb probably will be there too.)
“Some of us can’t wait to celebrate the first woman president of the United States,” said Penn President Amy Guttmann.
“I fully expect she will break another barrier in four years,” Mayor Michael Nutter added, “that she’ll be the first First Lady to walk back into the White House in her own right as the president of the United States of America.”
Clearly, Clinton isn’t quieting such notions.
Still, there were signs, if you were looking, that Clinton is actually done with the day-to-day grind of politics—that there is no next act for a woman who, after all, has served as First Lady, Senator, and Secretary of State. There were three big reasons on display Tuesday night:
• She was in Philadelphia, accepting the Liberty Medal: Take a look at previous recipients of the medal and when they received them—the Liberty Medal, when it’s awarded to political figures, is pretty much awarded to people whose careers have peaked. Yeah, they might’ve caused a stir once—Lech Walesa? Nelson Mandela?—but now they’ve settled into “beloved elder statesperson” status. It’s a lifetime achievement award for people whose best achievements are behind them.
And you can’t blame the National Constitution Center for making that choice, either. Give the award to people who are still in the arena, throwing rhetorical punches, and maybe the center loses its carefully polished image as a “nonpartisan” institution. Giving the award to semi-retirees reduces the chance that the center will be seen as biased, or get embarrassed when a recipient gets mired in controversy or scandal. This was Hillary’s “gold watch” moment.
• She didn’t seem to have much stomach for fighting. Jeffrey Rosen, the center’s president, suggested before Clinton’s speech that she might talk about topics like freedom of speech on the Internet—an issue dear to her during her time as secretary, and one that’s especially hot in light of Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA. And as a recent foreign policy official, she might’ve been expected to talk about America’s approach to Syria. Instead, she referenced hot topics only vaguely and mostly indirectly, wrapping herself instead in a kind of gauzy bipartisanship.
“Even in our darkest hours, we have been blessed with leaders who put the nation first, above personal and partisan advantage,” she said, and later added: “When we let partisanship override citizenship … our standing in the world suffers.”
Which is fine. But it doesn’t sound like the kind of person ready to battle other Democrats for a nomination, or Republicans for the presidency. That’s the kind of activity that demands, well, partisanship.
• Her team didn’t distribute a copy of her prepared remarks to the press. Which means that reporters had to (gasp!) take notes. It’s a minor thing, but it suggests that care and feeding of the press wasn’t really a Clinton priority on Tuesday—she just wanted to enjoy the moment. Those aren’t the priorities of a presidential candidate, ever.
And we haven’t even talked about how the ceremony ended: With a duet by Aimee Mann and Ted Leo, singing Mann’s “Save Me.” Which is a great song, but let’s face it: A chorus that begs the unseen listener to “save me from the ranks of the freaks who suspect they could never love anyone” isn’t really “God Bless America” or even “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” on the list of theme songs that inspire patriotism and optimism.
It was a very eccentric, very personal choice of music—and that’s the kind of stuff that presidential candidates avoid. It’s time to give Joe Biden a fresh look, Democrats, because Tuesday night’s signs say Hillary Clinton is retired.