In the epilogue to “Hard Choices” — the 2014 memoir of her four years as secretary of state — Hillary Clinton describes a “memory quilt” she received after her daughter, Chelsea, gave birth to her own daughter, Charlotte.
As Clinton examined this memento of Chelsea’s life from babyhood to motherhood, “I wondered for a moment what a quilt of my own life would look like,” she writes.
When it comes to stitching together the most unflattering version of a Hillary Clinton “memory quilt,” her opponents aren’t wasting any time. On Sunday, Rand Paul released an ad linking Clinton to a “path to the past” and not a good one. And in an CNN interview, Paul offered a killer take on a famous ad from Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign: “I think Benghazi was a 3 a.m. phone call she didn’t take.”
Now it’s Clinton’s turn to begin to seize back the narrative.
Sunday’s announcement that she is officially in the presidential race came first from aides, with a request for financial support from donors. Then came a video directly from Clinton, focusing on middle class families and promising to be their champion.
Running on the economy is a family tradition. Bill Clinton famously did it in 1992; and after the recession and slow recovery of recent years, there’s certainly a yearning for economic leadership that reaches out to young and old Americans who have been left behind.
But Clinton is also being pushed by the left to embrace a more progressive economic agenda. The video had a definite Elizabeth Warren ring to it. As she deals with pressure from the left, Clinton also faces challenges from a career in politics that stretches back several decades, to her years as first lady, as well as to her tenure as secretary of state.
Meanwhile, a new book dredges up unflattering anecdotes about the private lives of Bill and Hillary during the Clinton White House years. And, Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern whose affair with Bill Clinton rocked the country, is also back in the spotlight. This time she’s a newly empowered advocate for wronged women, speaking out against bullying and female victimization.
Republicans continue to raise questions about her accountability for the deaths of Americans during a 2012 attack on a US diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. More generally, they are tying her to what they define as the Obama administration’s weakness on foreign policy. Ahead of his own official announcement of a presidential run, Jeb Bush put out a video on Sunday, saying America can “do better” than Obama-Clinton foreign policy.
Then, of course, there’s the ongoing controversy over the State Department e-mails Clinton kept on a separate server and ultimately deleted. It raises old, negative images of Bill and Hillary Clinton as arrogant rule-breakers, unwilling to admit the truth of their behavior even when caught.
Critics from the right, left, and middle are also unhappy about the Clinton Foundation’s acceptance of money from assorted foreign leaders associated with regimes not exactly known as champions of human rights.
At 67, Clinton has been on the public stage a very long time. Like anyone of that age, the quilt of her life is made up of many patches — some good, some bad.
Wrapping herself in the warmest, most wonderful memories won’t be enough to win the presidency. It’s an old, but true maxim: successful campaigns focus on the future.
But you can be sure her opponents will do their best to keep her mired in the least pleasant aspects of the past.