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Hillary Clinton's sexism opportunity

This article originally appeared in National Journal.

Forget the book tour, Hillary.

Do something interesting.

Start by ending the constricting and unpalatable obsession that the presidential glass ceiling is yours and yours alone to break. It isn't. The longer you pretend otherwise, the longer your road to the White House will become. The glass ceiling halts the progress of all women--not just yours.

Your proximity to it, historically, matters a great deal. Being the closest women to the ceiling who hasn't broken through simply isn't enough to justify or even explain a second run for the White House. As you learned in 2008, being "in it to win it" leaves gaps a plucky rival can exploit.

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This isn't about campaign advice. For thousands of genuinely important reasons, I don't give campaign advice. I'm not advocating on behalf of making the campaign more interesting, either. It just seems to me, having covered Hillary Clinton's campaign in 2008, the book tour she has just launched--and the book itself--has the same repetitive dullness and penchant for pablum that hamstrung her first bid for the White House.

Instead of getting trapped in the economic glue of pretending to having been "dead broke" after leaving the White House, why not, Hillary, go to every city on your tour and identify the woman there who ought to consider running for president? What could be the harm?

More important, what could be the gain?

First, it would take you off your self-built pedestal of inevitability. Nothing is inevitable. See '08.

Second, it would suggest you know you're not all that and a bag of chips--no one is, by the way. Humility was a characteristic Hillary only showed when she was way behind in '08. And crowds ate it up. The feisty, down-on-her-luck, and battling Hillary had something utterly absent from her campaign appearances in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina--all the way through Super Tuesday. That Hillary's humility came too late is axiomatic. The point is, Hillary became reachable, touchable, and even lovable (somewhat) when she stopped buying her own noxious inevitability myth.

Third, it would give Hillary something she's rarely developed in her public life--a reputation for being clever. There's nothing more disarming in politics or life than a powerful person shedding that power in favor of the flattery of others. The best weapon a seemingly inevitable politician can employ is to shed the aura of inevitability. There is no other politician in America for whom this is truer than Hillary. If Hillary says lots of women--right now--are ready to be president she doesn't make herself weaker by comparison, she makes herself stronger by speaking on behalf of qualifications.

Fourth, it would give Hillary a chance to be bipartisan in a galvanizing way--not in the insipid way her book pretends. Instead of trying to peddle a bunch of sloppy and incoherent dreams for "inclusive politics and a common purpose to unleash the creativity, potential, and opportunity that makes America exceptional," name some Republican women qualified to be president. Hillary need not agree with the positions of Govs. Susana Martinez of New Mexico or Nikki Haley of South Carolina or Mary Fallin of Oklahoma, or of Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire or Susan Collins of Maine. She could say they all are daft on the ideas she holds dear and would love to debate them to prove how wrong they are, but underscore that each has the basic qualifications for the presidency. Flattery in politics need not ring positively true. Frequently it doesn't, but even in its falsity it can reshape impressions and scramble political actions. No one right now has more capacity to do this than Hillary.

Imagine, for just one second, if Hillary had said at Tuesday's book signing in New York something highly complimentary of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York? So complimentary that it egged on a question about whether Gillibrand was qualified for the White House. Can you imagine the thunderclaps if Hillary had casually said, "Yes. And she's not the only one." Who else? "Come to my next book signing."

Follow along my admittedly subversive train of thought as we trundle north to Boston. How about Hillary saying Sen. Elizabeth Warren absolutely, positively has the qualifications to be president and would make a great candidate? Suddenly, the question isn't whether Hillary is threatened by the prospect of an insurgent, draft-Warren movement; it's now about how Hillary is the advocate for a Democratic Party brimming with qualified women candidates for president. With one utterance, Hillary would take the wind out of the idea of a Warren insurgency, one of its most alluring qualities at the moment, and win herself a laurel for equanimity and feminist truth-telling. It might even score grudging points from fence-sitting progressives. This is what is known as a clever stunt. Hillary has hardly ever pulled one off. It would be a startling bit of fresh air.

Then there could be Sen. Amy Klobuchar in Minneapolis. And Sens. Claire McCaskill in St. Louis, Debbie Stabenow in Detroit, and Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer in California. The list goes on. Or at least it could.

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There is a trick to politics that the best practitioners use instinctively--create the impression you're humble and reachable when you are not. Hillary is apparently incapable of this insight and demonstrably incapable of deploying this tactic. Rather, she exults in the separateness of politics--the joys of pipe, drape, rope, and distance. Her team is impeccably capable at translating the crude language of muscularity to crowds, the press, and even those who seek to rally to her side. This comes from a sense of always battling in politics, first on behalf of Bill and then on behalf of herself as the woman who ... just ... might ... make ... it. That had to be a heavy burden, and it showed all through '08. Until then, Hillary was way behind and had no plausible reason to continue. The sheer improbability, bordering on mathematical ridiculousness, of her post-Super Tuesday campaign earned for Hillary something she'd never had before--sympathy.

Hillary cannot draw on that now. And nothing in this bloodless book rollout has the slightest chance of creating any. What Hillary can do is rhetorically widen the presidential viewfinder, casting an approving light on other women in politics, regarding herself as only one of many qualified, energetic, and interested women who could lead the nation. Hillary would give the appearance of shedding the presidential ambitions her book tour now burnish to a near-blinding gloss. She would never give up those ambitions; she would merely shed the off-putting appearance of them.

And then Hillary, for once, could delight in being judged on her appearances.

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