Where Hillary Clinton Is Most in Her Element

At Georgetown, Clinton could speak freely about women’s economic inequality without fear of immediate reprisal.

Oct. 30, 2014, 11:37 a.m.

Hil­lary Clin­ton doesn’t want to talk about polit­ics, and that’s per­fectly fine—for now.

Speak­ing at Geor­getown Uni­versity on Thursday, Clin­ton ad­dressed wo­men’s eco­nom­ic em­power­ment.

She told a story about a trip she made to In­dia with a group of eco­nom­ists. Clin­ton said she no­ticed many wo­men were work­ing in the street mar­kets or haul­ing wa­ter.

“How do you eval­u­ate wo­men’s con­tri­bu­tions to the eco­nomy?” she re­called ask­ing. One eco­nom­ist re­spon­ded that they didn’t be­cause wo­men don’t par­ti­cip­ate in the form­al eco­nomy.

“What would hap­pen if wo­men stopped work­ing in the in­form­al eco­nomy?” Clin­ton asked, and sug­ges­ted that the eco­nomy would screech to a halt.

“Well, yes, that is a point,” the eco­nom­ist replied. The Geor­getown audi­ence laughed at the an­ec­dote.

The an­ec­dote dove­tails nicely with Clin­ton’s semi-new stump-speech thes­is: that by em­power­ing wo­men across the eco­nom­ic spec­trum, the world suc­ceeds.

It’s an ar­gu­ment echoed in her speeches for fe­male can­did­ates like Martha Coakley, Jeanne Shaheen, Staci Ap­pel, and Mary Burke. At an event for Coakley on Monday, Clin­ton made an eco­nom­ic ob­ser­va­tion that got her in some trouble.

“Don’t let any­body tell you it’s cor­por­a­tions and busi­nesses that cre­ate jobs,” she said. “You know that old the­ory—trickle-down eco­nom­ics. That has been tried; that has failed. It has failed rather spec­tac­u­larly.”

Re­pub­lic­ans like Sen. Rand Paul quickly seized upon the com­ment, link­ing it to Pres­id­ent Obama’s much-de­rided “you didn’t build that” com­ment from 2012.

“Hil­lary Clin­ton says, ‘Well, busi­nesses don’t cre­ate jobs,’” Paul told a crowd in Kan­sas on Tues­day. “Any­body be­lieve that?” The crowd roared its dis­agree­ment.

But back at Geor­getown, speak­ing to a wo­men’s eco­nom­ic for­um, Hil­lary Clin­ton is ab­so­lutely in her ele­ment, her pub­lic safe space. Even at the Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee Wo­men’s Lead­er­ship For­um, Clin­ton’s per­form­ance soun­ded more like a paid ad­vert­ise­ment for the Demo­crat­ic Party than a speech she truly cared about. At Geor­getown, she could be as prag­mat­ic and pro­fess­or­i­al as she wanted.

This is not to say she’s avoid­ing the plebs as she seeks their polit­ic­al fa­vor. Ruby Cramer re­ports that while vis­it­ing Iowa on Wed­nes­day, Clin­ton worked the crowds, “call­ing out in­di­vidu­al [Bruce] Bra­ley vo­lun­teers by name to thank them, mak­ing time for an un­an­nounced stop at a res­taur­ant in Iowa City, and jok­ing about that spe­cial kind of de­vo­tion to pres­id­en­tial polit­ics for which the early-vot­ing state is known.”

As one of the most fam­ous politi­cians in the coun­try, it’s dif­fi­cult to not be­come isol­ated from main­stream Amer­ic­an life. It’s easy to seek solitude at the Con­gres­sion­al Coun­try Club, as Newt and Cal­lista Gin­grich of­ten do, or simply re­main on your ranch and paint por­traits of your dog. It would be so easy for Hil­lary Clin­ton to simply sink in­to the jac­uzzi of lib­er­al in­tel­lec­tu­al­ism, lead­ing mi­cro-fin­ance pro­grams in third-world coun­tries and giv­ing com­mence­ment speeches when she wants to. But no mat­ter how un­com­fort­able Clin­ton may be with the glad-hand­ing, eat­ing at diners in Iowa, and pre­tend­ing to care about loc­al uni­ons, she’s not go­ing to settle for an easy re­tire­ment.

After her Geor­getown speech ended, Clin­ton was hustled out the door to a cam­paign event for An­thony Brown, a Demo­crat run­ning for gov­ernor of Mary­land. If Clin­ton and her fel­low Demo­crats only had to per­suade lib­er­al in­tel­lec­tu­als at elite coastal uni­versit­ies to vote for them, they’d have noth­ing to worry about come Tues­day. As it stands, the midterm cam­paign trail is not such a safe space.

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