She should have been the first woman President in American history. She had been the front runner in 2008, after all. Plus, she’d waited her turn - standing aside for John Kerry in 2004, and staying in her New York Senate seat. In addition, she had experience - lots of it. She’d been involved in public policy since the 1970s, and had taken a back seat to support the political career of her husband, Bill. She was effectively co-governor of Arkansas with him in the 1980s, and in the 1990s, she had been co-President of the United States.
The White House years had been rewarding, but tough: hounded by prosecutors, and humiliated by the Lewinsky scandal, she was often reduced to tears. Yet she had kept on, and instead of retreating, she moved forward. Eight years in the United States Senate proved that Hillary could step out on her own, and be a success at it. 2008 was meant to be the year when it all came together for her: she was the anointed leader of her party, and after eight years of Bush, the American people, she believed, would embrace a return to the Clinton era of peace and prosperity.
But for Hillary Rodham Clinton, as we all know, things didn’t turn out as expected. A novice Senator from Chicago, Barack Hussein Obama, was also in the race, seeking to make a name for himself. What he lacked in experience, he made up for in charisma. He was novel, a brilliant orator, and the embodiment of change. Plus, while Hillary had the “first woman to be President” tag going for her, he had the “first black man in the White House” storyline - one which was equally, if not more appealing.
Hillary fought him, primary by primary, hoping against hope that in the end, the nomination would be hers. But it was not to be: Obama emerged the victor, and Hillary conceded defeat. While she had expected to be offered the Vice President spot, Obama passed Hillary over for Joe Biden, leaving her to ponder what she was to do with the rest of her life, and how to pay off millions of dollars of campaign debts.
But then came the phone call from President-Elect Obama: would you like to be my Secretary of State? Hillary was unsure about how to respond. Sure it was a high profile position, but did she really want to work under Obama? Her resentment towards the man who had cost her the presidency was still raw, and she was mentally and physically exhausted from two years of campaigning. Plus, accepting the job at the State Department would mean giving up her independence and a safe Senate seat - a job she could have had for life.
Hillary agonised over the decision for about a week or so, and then, perhaps against her better judgment, she accepted. Not to do so would go against her sense of duty to the country, and perhaps would make her look like a sore loser. Plus, as the President’s chief diplomat, she would be the face of America to the world, and with her star power, that could mean that she would be the most famous and powerful Secretary of State in history.
Seven months into the job, however, things aren’t going too well. Apart from falling and breaking her arm, the international system has stubbornly demonstrated that it exists as it is, not as Obama or Hillary would like it to be. Despite optimistic talk about engaging in a dialogue with North Korea, Iran and the Muslim world, the reality is that these three remain inherently hostile to America, and the hostility is only increasing. North Korea showed the impotence of American entreaties to dialogue when it went ahead in May and detonated a nuclear bomb. Iran did the same, when it rigged its own election to ensure the victory of its holocaust denying despot. America cried foul, but it didn’t count for much.
Which has only frustrated Hillary all the more. She is by nature a competitive person, who plays hardball to win. She wanted to take a tough stance against these two rogue regimes, keeping the military option on the table, but has been hampered by a President who already ruled that out. Instead of furthering the cause of peace, Hillary believes that such a weak posture only encourages aggression, and the results are there for all to see.
Plus, Hillary increasingly has felt sidelined. First, by a President who constantly wants to take centre stage, and second, by his appointment of others to do her job: George Mitchell as envoy to Israel; Richard Hoolbrooke to Pakistan; and Stephen Bosworth to North Korea. The only other boss that Hillary has ever really had was her husband, and part of the success of their relationship was that she could tell him what she thought, often at a screaming pitch. With Obama, however, she has to bite her tongue. All that bottled up emotion might have led to her eruption this past week.
Asked by a student in Africa what the opinion of her husband Bill was on a certain matter, she let the questioner have it: “Wait, you want to know what my husband thinks? My husband is not the secretary of state - I am!” Clinton said angrily, before adding: “If you want my opinion, I'll tell you my opinion. I'm not going to be channeling my husband.”
Her public mask had slipped and revealed Hillary’s inner rage at having to play second fiddle, both to Obama, and to her husband Bill, who had just pulled off a diplomatic masterstroke by meeting with the North Korean dictator and negotiating the release of two American journalists. It was as though Hillary was saying: I shouldn’t be asked these questions. I shouldn’t even be here: I should be sitting in the Oval Office, as President of the United States.
Hillary seems jerked around by the position of Secretary of State, and understandably so. It’s not an easy job, not in the best of times. But to hold the position when you feel that you have been robbed of the presidency, must be make the office incredibly burdensome. All things considered, Hillary has held herself remarkably well in trying circumstances but her public outburst does make one wonder: will she consider quitting her post, and challenging Obama again in 2012? That would be unlikely, but the Hillary narrative to date has been full of such unlikely twists in the plot, and considering her ego, what seems unlikely may well indeed occur.