Clinton Caps Long Career With Historic Nomination

Clinton Caps Long Career With Historic Nomination
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PHILADELPHIA – Hillary Clinton came full circle here Thursday night, completing her long arc from  controversial first lady who defended her philandering husband to New York senator who saw the 2008 presidential nomination taken from her by a rising star from Illinois to secretary of state who became embroiled in the Benghazi and email scandals to her party’s nominee. 

And, after a 35-year history in American politics in the shadow of the men she served, it was Hillary Clinton standing alone in the spotlight to become the first female presidential nominee of a majority party in U.S. history.

“It is with humility, determination, and with boundless confidence in America’s promise that I accept your nomination for president of the United States,” Clinton said as the packed Wells Fargo Center roared.

For a woman who has been called everything from a feminist heroine to a criminal—and that is just in the past week—it was Clinton’s night to redefine and reboot herself, to erase the words associated with her past: Whitewater, Vince Foster, universal health care, Benghazi, her speeches to Wall Street, private email servers.

“Sometimes, the people at this podium are new to the national stage. As you know, I’m not one of those people,” she said with a knowing chuckle as the audience laughed along with her.

“I’ve been your first lady, served eight years as senator from the great state of New York, then I represented all of you as secretary of state,” she added. “But my job titles only tell you what I’ve done. They don’t tell you why. The truth is, for all these years of public service, the service part has always come easier than the public part. I get it that some people don’t know what to make of me.”

Presented to the country as a partner to candidate Bill Clinton in 1992, Americans were told how she went to Wellesley and Yale Law School and worked with the Children’s Defense Fund and the oldest law firm in Little Rock, Ark. But her comments during that first national campaign, including “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies,” and, “I'm not sitting here like some little woman standing by my man, like Tammy Wynette,” became such lightning rods that she wasn’t invited to speak when her husband was nominated at the Democratic convention in New York City.

As first lady, she was put in charge of health care, wore headbands, wrote “It Takes a Village,” was investigated for Whitewater and Travelgate, and dealt with the suicide of the Clintons' longtime friend Vince Foster.

She also had to deal with the most humiliating of indignities – the public revelation that her husband had an affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The subsequent investigation led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment as well as an independent counsel’s report containing salacious details about Bill’s sex life. Through it all, she persevered, and was rewarded for her resilience. Her approval ratings hit the 70s, the highest in her tenure as first lady.

In her memoir, “Living History,” she described her reaction when Clinton told her of the affair: “I could hardly breathe. Gulping for air, I started crying and yelling at him, 'What do you mean? What are you saying? Why did you lie to me?'”

In 2000, she did something no other first lady had done: She ran for office in her own right. And she didn’t start small. She set her cap on a U.S. Senate seat—in a state where she’d never lived before. Elected from New York, she spent her first years in the upper chamber maintaining a low profile, respecting the tradition of young senators staying quiet and deferring to the elder statesmen. But the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center changed that. Clinton became an advocate for those rescue workers whose health suffered and helped to secure funding to redevelop the trade center site.

She also cast the most controversial vote of her time in the Senate, approving the Iraq War Resolution, which authorized President Bush to use military force against Saddam Hussein's regime.

She easily won reelection in 2006, and in the next two years voted against the surge of troops in Iraq and in favor of the Troubled Asset Relief Program to help bail out the sinking U.S. economy.

In 2008, Clinton ran against Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination, but she was ill prepared for a lengthy primary battle. Her campaign squandered money and time and lacked a consistent message, and the candidate became better known for her pantsuits than her policies.

One of her most memorable moments came when she ended her campaign with her now famous line: “Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it.”

Obama, showing he wasn’t holding the tough primary campaign against her, asked Clinton to be secretary of state, and she took a new role on the world stage.

She often speaks of the 110 countries she visited, the agreements she brokered and the leaders she met with, but her tenure became defined by two searing events: the September 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, and her decision to use her private email account while in office. 

In both cases, she was vindicated legally, although perhaps not in the public eye.

In June, a House Select Committee on Benghazi released new details about the attack, but none contained information seen as damaging to Clinton.

More controversial was Clinton’s use of a private email account and server during her time at Foggy Bottom. Clinton and several top aides testified to the FBI during its investigation, which found eight email chains contained top secret information. In a scathing statement, FBI Director James Comey outlined the investigation in detail and noted it was “possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account.”

He also criticized Clinton and her aides for being “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”

The FBI ultimately recommended no charges be filed against her, citing a lack of intent. But Comey’s harsh remarks gave Republicans plenty of campaign fodder.

Clinton stepped down from the State Department in 2013, becoming a private citizen again. She went to work for The Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and joined the speaking circuit. Her speeches to Wall Street firms, where she earned up to six figures and refused to release transcripts of her remarks, became fodder for Sen. Bernie Sanders during the 2016 presidential primary.

Despite her long history, numerous interviews and dozens of books written about her, many Americans still feel they don’t really know Hillary Rodham Clinton. Addressing that anomaly was in many ways the purpose of this convention—along with ridiculing Donald Trump—and Thursday was the accumulation of this effort.

It began Monday night with a fiery speech from first lady Michelle Obama, who said: “I trust Hillary to lead this country because I've seen her lifelong devotion to our nation's children, not just her own daughter, who she has raised to perfection, but every child who needs a champion.”

Then came Bill Clinton’s sappy address on Tuesday, in which he weaved together stories of their public service with their love life: “I married my best friend in 1975. I was still in awe after more than four years of being around her at how smart and strong and loving and caring she was.”

Finally, there was Wednesday night when President Obama named Hillary Clinton his heir, saying: “I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America.”

These were tough acts to follow, but Mrs. Clinton was up to the task. Her 56-minute speech was greeted enthusiastically by the delegates here. She stressed the theme of togetherness and reached across the aisle to Sanders supporters, some of whom still oppose her nomination despite Sanders’ plea with them to accept Clinton.

Several times during her speech, she was interrupted by chants of “Hillary, Hillary, Hillary.” In the beginning, this was a stratagem by her supporters to drown out pro-Sanders hecklers sprinkled throughout the hall. As the speech wore on, and the crowd warmed to her and her message, the chants became more spontaneous.

Helping humanize her was one of the most powerful weapons in her campaign arsenal, her daughter Chelsea Clinton.

Chelsea Clinton started out talking about her two young children, noting, “Every day I spend as Charlotte and Aidan’s mother, I think about my own mother – my wonderful, thoughtful, hilarious mother.”

She said her mother loves to read “Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo” to her granddaughter and recalled that when her mother traveled, she would leave Chelsea a note to open each day she was gone.

“That feeling – being valued and loved – that’s something my mom wants for every child. It is the calling of her life,” Chelsea Clinton said.

The Democratic convention here was in contrast with its Republican counterpart in Cleveland last week. The past four days have been pro-Hillary Clinton, while the GOP program was often anti-Hillary Clinton.

The different approaches show the two sides of the Democratic nominee: the one beloved by her party and staunchly defended by Clinton loyalists and the one who has become a rallying point for Republicans and angry Independents who cried “Lock her up” in Cleveland.

Trump, her opponent, warranted several mentions.

“He spoke for 70-odd minutes – and I do mean odd,” Clinton said of his acceptance speech in Cleveland. “And he offered zero solutions. But we already know he doesn't believe these things. No wonder he doesn't like talking about his plans. You might have noticed, I love talking about mine.”

Expect to hear more about Trump’s lack of specifics as the campaign shifts to the general election. Clinton and her running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine, will hold a rally in Philadelphia on Friday and then begin a bus tour through the battleground states of Pennsylvania and Ohio.

In her campaign, Clinton will not just be presenting her vision of American to the voters, she’ll also be battling to match the legacies of the two men who helped her most in her career – her husband, the 42nd president of the United States, and the current incumbent, President Barack Obama.

And that is a tough row to hoe. For despite their controversies, both men remain popular. Bill Clinton has a 95 percent approval rating among Democrats and a 64 percent approval rating among Independents, according to Gallup.

Obama has a 49.6 percent approval rating in the RealClearPolitics polling average – eight points more than Clinton’s average and 10 points more than Trump’s.

Adding to her challenge, almost 69 percent think the country is on the wrong track, a high number usually seen as deadly to the incumbent party.

But with the GOP nominee as controversial and as disliked as the Democratic one, this is no normal election year.

The results remain to be seen in an election that will surely go down in the history books, given that the Republican in the race has threatened to campaign against members of his own party and the Democrat has praised GOP stalwarts Ronald Reagan, John McCain and George W. Bush.

“I'm here to tell you tonight – progress is possible,” Clinton said. “I know because I've seen it in the lives of people across America who get knocked down and get right back up. And I know it from my own life. More than a few times, I've had to pick myself up and get back in the game.”

Emily Goodin is the managing editor of RealClearPolitics.

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

Alexis Simendinger covers the White House for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at asimendinger@realclearpolitics.com.  Follow her on Twitter @ASimendinger.

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