Hillary's Choice -- a run for glory or a quiet retirement after Secretary of State? Irish trip provided vital clues as to her intentions for 2016
By: Niall O'Dowd | Published Wednesday, December 19, 2012, 7:16 AM | Updated Wednesday, December 19, 2012, 7:16 AM
Hillary Clinton was feted and bid farewell to at a small private dinner at the Residence club in Stephen’s Green on Thursday night as twenty friends from both sides of the Atlantic gathered to mark her last trip to Ireland as Secretary of State.
During the meal of sea bass and boiled potatoes there was only one topic that dominated all else at the four small tables.
Will she or won’t she?
The White House will have a "for rent" sign in 2016 when Barack Obama leaves. Could she follow the first African American with the first woman and upend American politics for ever?
The answer insiders believe is a likely yes but there remains a significant element of doubt.
While the prospect is tempting the pitfalls are many and Hillary Clinton is keenly aware of them after her crash and burn in 2008
The Clintons have been part of every American national election since 1992, whether as direct participants or as key figures. It is a remarkable record and the question now is will it extend to 2016.
The Dublin dinner was a poignant occasion and one that was dominated by talk of what was next for a remarkable woman who has been Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, First Lady and a law lecturer in her career.
She has a resume unmatched by any modern day politician, indeed you would have to go back to the time of Jefferson to meet one politician who has held so many titles.
But a long resume is not necessarily a qualification for higher office in America. Barack Obama was just a one term senator .
It is not disputed that she is eminently qualified to be president of the United States. The question is will she be a contender and can she win?
There is also the bitter experience of 2008 to consider when she started as the red-hot favorite only to burn out as Barack Obama rode a massive media tide and an internet wave to victory in the primaries.
That defeat singed her in a way no other political setback had hurt. Yet the temptation for one last campaign at the age of 69 in 2016 is very real.
The speculation is already rife. The latest opinion polls show her at record popularity. her husband, fresh from helping secure Obama's victory is also at new levels of approval. Obama will be gone in four years.
Hillary wasn’t saying on Thursday night what her plans were but her tireless aide Huma Abedin did pipe up and say “vacation” when the question was raised on about what she would do next.
Hillary did not address the issue but instead went around the table and asked for memories of her Irish trips and Irish American events.
It was a poignant moment. If this really is her last job in public life as many believe, then she is bidding farewell to Ireland and will return only as a private citizen.
Ireland is very special for the Clintons, where they both proved their mettle on the peace process and established friendships and links that endure to the present day. Unlike Obama's Moneygall trip which
was little more than a pleasant interlude, the Clintons take their Irish involvement very seriously.
Her aides say that as Secretary of State she has repeatedly used the Irish example in talks with Middle East leaders and others as an example of how those of different ethnicities can get along.
In many ways it was her proving ground. As she had mentioned earlier in her speech at Dublin City University, her first efforts at diplomacy in Northern Ireland had been putting the kettle on and meeting with women from different backgrounds.
During her husband’s first visit to Northern Ireland in 1995 Hillary had met with community activist Joyce McCarten and dropped into her community center for tea with women of different backgrounds.
Hillary remembered she took the battered aluminum teapot back to the White House and used it as a symbol of her peacekeeping efforts.”
At the time she stated " Joyce gave me an old battered aluminium teapot - which kept the tea very warm, which is what I first noticed about it - that I took with me to the White House where I used it
every single day in the second floor private kitchen."
That unlikely start as a negotiator who eventually ended up facing off with world leaders and despots in the world’s trouble spots was an invaluable insight into bringing people together by stressing their
common humanity she said.
Thus, the women of Northern Ireland and her experience with the Vital Voices campaign stood to her she said.
Other lessons from Northern Ireland have clearly impacted.
The memories came cascading as friends and aides on Thursday night remembered. That December 1995 trip to Belfast and Derry when President Clinton addressed hundreds of thousands and Van Morrison sang “There Will Be Days Like This” was mentioned as a defining moment.
So too was the raucous White House Party on St.Patrick’s Day in the mid 1990s when the couple finally told the carousing Irish from both sides of the divide, who would not go home, to turn the lights off they were going to bed.
Then there was the memory of the first Vital Voices conference in Belfast bringing the women from both sides together.
Earlier at Dublin City University Hillary had revealed her emotional side when mentioning a champion of those days, Inez McCormack, now battling a serious cancer.
Hillary has called the Northern Ireland peace activist several times during her illness, a sign as always that the Clintons do not forget close friends.
This is the new Hillary, the emotional one who reaches out far more than she did. As First Lady she was stand offish, as U.S. Senator she was far more engaging and direct, as Secretary of State she has her husband’s ability to connect with people.
When it came to Hillary’s turn to speak on Thursday night she recalled the Adams visa and the overwhelming advice not to give it and the decision her husband made to grant it.
That taught her too she said, that tough decisions often upset your own side as much as the opposition.
The 2016 race is such a tough decision. There is the capacity to upset key figures in the Democratic Party if she overly delays her decision to run or not in 2016.
There are two candidates chomping at the bit, New York governor Andrew Cuomo and Maryland governor Martin O’Malley.
Both are bright, young and ambitious yet know that they are frozen in place until Hillary makes up her mind.
If she is clever they will have a long wait. The later she decides the harder it is to mount a campaign against her, the harder it is for an outsider like an Obama-type to mount a guerilla campaign against her.
Yet she knows how fickle the press is, how they will seek to anoint some other new candidate if only to sell newspapers when the time comes around.
Her abrupt fall from grace in 2008 when she thought she was the anointed one is still on her mind.
By 2016 some other candidate now in the long grass will have emerged perhaps. In 2008 they saw the now disgraced John Edwards as the looming threat.
Obama was in their rear view mirror his chance unlikely to come for at least another eight years. He soon destroyed that illusion.
So as she departs Ireland after her successful Dublin and Belfast visits Hillary Clinton will have much to ponder. As soon as she gets the rest she so desperately needs she will face the greatest choice of her life, to run or not in 2016.
Already some Republcian candidates have made shapes and visited early battleground states.
With campaigns startng earlier and earlier Clinton will be hounded to declare by the end of 2013 on whether she intends or not to run.
In a life full of drama, glory and bitter defeat, the guess is Hillary will indeed seek that magic ring one more time and run for the White House.
The Clintons do not like unfinished business and the most remarkable couple in the history of the Republic are unlikely to pass up one final shot at history.