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Leaning on the feats of others

Published: Friday, April 18, 2014 8:48 p.m. CST

Recently Hillary Clinton gave what appeared at first to be a rambling and unfocused answer when asked to name the proudest achievement of her four years as Secretary of State. The short version is, she doesn’t have one. But Clinton’s words make a lot more sense when seen not as a non-answer to a specific question, but as an effort to lay the foundation and establish a theme for a presidential campaign.

The occasion was her appearance on a panel discussion at the “Women in the World” meeting in Manhattan. It was pretty easygoing. The moderator, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, asked softball after softball.

Toward the end, Friedman turned to Clinton and said: “When you look at your time as Secretary of State, what are you most proud of, and what do you feel was unfinished, maybe love to have another crack at some day?”

“Look, I really see my role as secretary, and in fact, leadership in general in a democracy, as a relay race,” Clinton said. “I mean, you run the best race you can run, you hand off the baton. Some of what hasn’t been finished may go on to be finished.”

As she went on, Clinton instead linked herself to President Obama’s achievements – at least the Democratic version of them – not in the field of foreign affairs, but at home.

It’s a vague and highly debatable argument. And in the end, at the “Women in the World” gathering, Clinton seemed to rely mostly on the Obama administration’s domestic accomplishments – or at least her version of them – to shore up the case for her performance as Secretary of State. That is pretty much a non sequitur.

But in a larger sense, the “relay race” image may turn out to be the key to Hillary Clinton’s run for president. The campaign theme is pretty easy to sketch out. The “relay race” theme allows Hillary Clinton to surf on her husband’s and her old boss’ accomplishments, reaching many years into the past, without showcasing her own lackluster record. For Democrats, it will be a happy story. For everyone else, it could be a hard sell.

• Byron York is chief political correspondent for The Washington Examiner.

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