After losing the Iowa caucuses to Barack Obama in 2008, Hillary Clinton sought to undercut her rival's inspirational campaign with a hard-knocks lesson in political reality. "You campaign in poetry, but you govern in prose," said Ms. Clinton, who would ultimately lose the Democratic nomination.
Seven years later, that quote (which Ms. Clinton borrowed from former New York governor Mario Cuomo) remains the unofficial conceit of her presidential campaign. Ms. Clinton may try to leverage her status as potentially the first female nominee to inject an element of historical significance into her second run at the White House, but it will be largely window dressing.
Governing, in all its prosaic messiness, is the main Clinton act. Lofty speeches (were she able to give them) are not her style. She isn't running to offer hope. She's running because it's her turn after watching too many men screw the job up. If you're a non-aligned American voter, you're attracted to her candidacy because you know she is smart and tough as nails. She works superhumanly hard, does not suffer fools and will work across the aisle to get things done.
More than ever, Ms. Clinton is the anti-Obama. You wouldn't have to worry about high-mindedness or naiveté bogging down a Hillary Clinton White House. No one knows how Washington, and indeed the world, works better than the Clintons. They are triangulators, always living to fight another day and thriving on the endless give and take of power brokering.
But if the Obamas make you think of The West Wing – with their sorted private lives and principled ethics – the Clintons make you think of House of Cards.
And therein lies the rub of a Clinton candidacy. For all her experience and skill, she comes with more baggage than Air Canada's lost in 75 years of business. Secrets and lies, skeletons and bodies, calculation and inauthenticity are all part of the package. It all comes topped off by Ms. Clinton's paranoia, sense of entitlement and victimization complex.
This all came rushing back to us after The New York Times revealed last week that during her stint as secretary of state, Ms. Clinton used a personal e-mail account tied to a private server at her New York home. That kept her electronic correspondence off government computers, where it would have been more easily subject to congressional subpoenas or journalists' inquiries.
First came the stonewalling and charges from her allies that Ms. Clinton was being unfairly hounded by the same "vast right-wing conspiracy" that she once accused of seeking to derail her husband's presidency. Ms. Clinton then said she leapt to turn over selected e-mails to the government. "What I did was direct my counsel to conduct a thorough investigation and to err on the side of providing anything that could be connected to work," she said Tuesday. Only she and her team know what criteria were used in that process. Anything deemed private and personal – Ms. Clinton cited e-mails about daughter Chelsea's wedding and her "yoga routines" as examples – were purged.
"I feel that I have taken unprecedented steps to provide these public e-mails," Ms. Clinton protested Tuesday, striking a victim's pose even though she is not one at all.
Ms. Clinton begins her second run at the White House under a familiar Clintonesque cloud. Did those personal e-mails include solicitations for donations to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, raising a potential conflict of interest? And does anyone believe, as she insists, that she never e-mailed classified information? (At State, everything but the colour of the paint on the walls is classified.) Storing classified information on a private server such as Ms. Clinton's would be a violation of U.S. law.
Ms. Clinton began her Tuesday press conference speaking about the Clinton foundation's new women's rights initiative, No Ceilings. But that fell flat, given the recent news that the foundation has accepted donations from governments that repress women, including Saudi Arabia and Algeria. Whether that's just evidence of Ms. Clinton's basic pragmatism or unabashed hypocrisy, it provides endless fodder for the anti-Clinton echo chamber that is revving up for the mother of all smear campaigns in 2016.
It will be dirty, angry and exhausting. And yet, it seems Ms. Clinton can't wait to take on her enemies.
After No Drama Obama, is the world ready for more of the oh-so-complicated Clintons?