William Tecumseh Sherman is known mainly for three things: for being a general in the Civil War, for burning Atlanta to the ground in his role as said general, and, finally, for providing the most definitive answer in the history of American politics regarding a potential candidacy for president, which is often quoted as, “If drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve.” Since then, whenever a politician has been asked about their political aspirations, their answer is inevitably measured up against Sherman’s. Sometimes, when someone really wants to put any prospect of a candidacy to rest for good, they’ll even quote him directly. That’s not something that Hillary Clinton has done since bowing out of the presidential race in June 2008. Though she’s addressed her future aspirations many times, and always downplays the possibility that she could run for president again, her answers never quite reach the level of being Shermanesque. Which is probably why people keep asking. Herewith, a in-depth analysis of those statements.
When: October 14, 2008
Where: Fox & Friends
What Was Said: When asked what the chances were of her running for president again, Hillary replied, “Probably close to zero. There’s an old saying: Bloom where you’re planted.”
Comments: Clearly there’s wiggle room in here. “Probably” and “close to” signify that the chances of another run might not actually be anywhere near zero. As for the “bloom where you’re planted” adage, it hardly means anything except “I’ll take whatever I can get.”
When: July 22, 2009
Where: An interview with The Nation in Bangkok, Thailand
What Was Said:
Interviewer: Will we ever get to see you as president of the United States?
Hillary: Well, that’s not anything I’m at all thinking about. I think the job I have now is, um [clears throat], incredibly demanding, and I’m 100 percent focused on it, and in our country when you’re in the secretary of State position you’re out of politics, so I’m not involved in our domestic politics at all, and that’s fine with me because this job is so demanding.
Interviewer: You’ve given up hope to be the first lady president?
Hillary: [Laughs] Well, I’ve got a very demanding and exciting job right now and I’m not somebody who looks ahead, I don’t know, but I doubt very much that anything like that will ever be part of my life.
Interviewer: So it’s wait and see.
Hillary: (laughs) No, no, no, no.
Interviewer: Never say never.
Hillary: Well, I am saying no —
Interviewer: Now …
Hillary: — because I have a very committed attitude towards the job I’m doing now —
Interviewer: Now …
Hillary: — and so that’s not anything that is at all on my radar screen.
Comments: Hillary may as well have declared her candidacy for 2016 right here. Notice the repeated emphasis on how focused she is on her current job. In fact, the demands of being secretary of State seem to be almost the sole reason she isn’t contemplating a run for president. All things come to an end, and no secretary of State has served two full four-year terms since Dean Rusk in the sixties. And the perfectly placed clearing of the throat? Come on! As George Costanza pointed out in “The Soul Mate,” throat-clearing is “a nonverbal implication of doubt.”
When: July 26, 2009
Where: An interview with David Gregory on Meet the Press
What Was Said: After Gregory shows a clip of the exchange in Thailand:
Hillary: The answer is “no,” I don’t know how many more —
Gregory: But you didn’t say never!
Hillary: Well, I say, “No, never,” you know, “Not at all.” I don’t know what else to say.
Gregory: Are you saying you wouldn’t entertain another run?
Hillary: I have absolutely no belief, in my mind, that that is going to happen, that I have any interest in it happening. You know, as I said, I am so focused on what I’m doing …
Comments: Hillary has an opportunity to flat-out deny that she would ever run again. Instead, she falls back on how she feels in the present day, leaving open the possibility that her “interest in it happening” could change in the future. She then transitions, once again, into being “focused on what she’s doing,” before, suspiciously if understandably, changing the topic completely.
When: October 12, 2009
Where: An interview with Ann Curry on Today
What Was Said:
Curry: Will you ever run for president again, yes or no?
Hillary: (laughs) No.
Hillary: No, no. I mean this is, this is a great job, it is a 24/7 job, and I’m looking forward to retirement at some point.
Comments: For the first time, Hillary unequivocally denies that she’ll run for president again. Thrice. Then again, she also mentions, as usual, how time-consuming her current job is — as if anyone expects her to run for president while remaining secretary of State. She’s also “looking forward to retirement at some point” — maybe when she’s 74?
When: October 14, 2009
Where: An interview with Cynthia McFadden of ABC News
What Was Said:
McFadden: You said earlier this week that you were going to retire at some point …
McFadden: … and that you were not going to run for president.
Hillary: I did say that.
McFadden: It’s making enormous waves throughout the country back home.
Hillary: You think so? Oh, well, I mean, really, I feel like I have had the most amazing life in my public service and for the last seventeen years, ever since my husband started running for president, I have been, you know, in the spotlight, working hard, and this job is incredibly all-encompassing. So I think looking forward to maybe taking some time off. You don’t think that’s a good idea?
McFadden: Well, never is a long time. So I want to ask you again. You’re never going to run for president again?
Hillary: I have absolutely no interest in running for president again. None. None. I mean, I know that’s hard for some people to believe, but, you know, I just … I just don’t, I feel like that was a great experience, you know, I gave it all I had, I’m giving this job all I have. I try to live in the present, so it just seems, you know, that that’s not in my future.
Comments: At first, Hillary completely dodges the issue, vaguely alluding to “taking some time off” again. Then comes a seemingly airtight denial: “I have absolutely no interest in running for president again. None. None.” But — and not to rely too much on a Seinfeldian reading of body language — notice the scratching of the eye, a possible “tell.” Most revealing, though, is the final line (which apparently wasn’t aired, but appeared in the transcript) — another mention of “living in the present,” which, again, may indicate that her seemingly stringent denials apply only to her current state of mind. Still, she sounded as certain as ever that it won’t happen.