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OPINION

Shribman: When Hillary makes it official

David Shribman

So Hillary Rodham Clinton is going to say next month that she’s officially a presidential candidate. What does that mean?

It means more than meets the eye.

It answers the most important question in politics today, rendering the speculative real.

It focuses the political world on the implications of a Democratic nominee with no apparent strong challengers.

It begins the testing of the clearest front-runner since William Howard Taft sought the presidency in 1912.

American presidential campaigns are peculiar spectacles, with peculiar time-honored customs, none more so than the official announcement of a candidacy. The contender sets out a campaign theme and a general philosophy of government, usually without interference from critics.

In a classic of this genre, Sen. John F. Kennedy accomplished all that in one sentence in the first minute of his remarks, though that sentence went on for 117 words:

“For it is in the executive branch that the most crucial decisions of this century must be made in the next four years — how to end or alter the burdensome arms race, where Soviet gains already threaten our very existence — how to maintain freedom and order in the newly emerging nations — how to rebuild the stature of American science and education — how to prevent the collapse of our farm economy and the decay of our cities — how to achieve, without further inflation or unemployment, expanded economic growth benefiting all Americans — and how to give direction to our traditional moral purpose, awakening every American to the dangers and opportunities that confront us.”

In Hillary Rodham Clinton’s case, she will likely seek to set forth a governing philosophy that differs from that of both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama while paying fealty to both.

She will strive to offer a vision that takes the country beyond the two Clinton and two Obama terms. And for the political cognoscenti, she almost certainly will signal that her 2016 drive for the White House will not be a rerun of her tumultuous 2008 campaign, which sank of its own weight and is remembered more for its internal feuds than for its external sense of purpose.

Clinton will have to decide who stands with her on the stage, choosing among a husband who was president, a daughter who was reared in the White House and a 6-month-old child who has cast the onetime senator as a grandmother — and probably choosing all of them.

David Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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