Hillary Clinton has gone to Togo.
Joe Biden is going to Iowa.
Let us now explicate.
The vice president (that’s Biden) is scheduled in September to attend Sen. Tom Harkin’s annual steak fry, which is what you do for a presidential race even if you have no taste for steak. Biden knows that merely by attending he is suggesting that he might enter the Iowa Democratic caucuses, which, as usual, will be the lead-off contest for the 2016 presidential election. If he does so, Clinton will be his likely opponent. Will she say that’s she’s been to Togo? Will Clinton say that she’s been to where no secretary of state had ever been before — the Cook Islands, for instance? Will she echo the constant refrain from her State Department tenure — that she traveled more than any secretary of state in history, an astounding 956,733 miles, which is 38.42 times around the world and which, you have to concede, is a lot. Iowans may be impressed, but being First Frequent Flier is not enough to get them out on the forbiddingly cold night when the caucuses will be held. Clinton, as my Washington Post colleague Dan Balz points out, needs a message.
At the moment, her only one is that she is a woman. Becoming the first female president is a worthy goal, but it kind of falls into the category of miles traveled and countries visited. It is an achievement, even a stunning one, but it is not a stirring trumpet call. Even now, her statistics-laden tenure has been somewhat eclipsed by her successor at State. John Kerry has already managed to bring Israelis and Palestinians together to resume peace talks. If these talks produce an agreement (not likely, but still ... ), then all this talk about miles traveled is going to sound awfully silly.
Clinton is undoubtedly the front-runner for the Democratic nomination in 2016, but then she is always the front-runner until something trips her up. The last time out — 2008 — it was her own dismal campaign and of course the emergence of one Barack Hussein Obama, a junior senator promising “hope.” To counter that, Clinton had no real message of her own. Instead, there was a fustiness about her, a familiarity that was both good and bad. She was — remains — Bill Clinton’s wife and that, as we all know, is both good and bad.