During her second official campaign launch over the weekend, Hillary Clinton made the case for her candidacy by reminding voters that while she may be very old, she is also a woman.
"I may not be the youngest candidate in this race, but I will be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States," she said to raucous applause.
Vox called it the "best" and "most important" line in Clinton's speech. Why? Because "it said so much about the difference between this campaign and the one she lost in 2008."
This has, for some reason, become the conventional wisdom among the reporters following Clinton's campaign: Clinton didn't really emphasize her gender in 2008, but she's going to this time around. AP reported that Clinton kicked off her 2016 campaign (for the second time) "with an enthusiastic embrace of her potential to become the first woman to win the White House." Vox‘s Jonathan Allen wrote:
Clinton advisers believe one of the biggest mistakes she made in 2008 was ignoring the appeal of the historic nature of her candidacy for the presidency. Barack Obama gave voters a chance to break new ground. Now, Clinton's making an explicit appeal to women, as well as to men who see value in breaking the glass ceiling of the Oval Office.
So, at the very least, it's the storyline Clinton aides are pushing to reporters. But did Clinton really "ignore the appeal of the historic nature of her candidacy for the presidency" during her failed run in 2008? It doesn't take much Googling to suggest that this might be a bit of an overstatement.
During a Democratic primary debate on Jan. 15, 2008 (the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.), former NBC News host Brian Williams asked Clinton about the at-times racially tinged nature of her campaign against Barack Obama, including the controversial remarks BET founder Bob Johnson, a Clinton supporter, made about Obama's youthful experiences with drugs.
In response, Clinton said she agreed with Obama that "neither race nor gender should be a part of this campaign," before proceeding to, rather abruptly, remind everyone that she is a woman [emphasis added].
It is Dr. King's birthday. The three of us are here in large measure because his dreams have been realized: you know, John, who is, as we know, a son of a mill worker and, you know, really has become an extraordinary success; Senator Obama, who has such an inspirational and profound story to tell America and the world; I, as a woman who is also beneficiary of the civil rights movement and the women's movement and the human rights movement. And the Democratic Party has always been in the forefront of that.
Two weeks later, in a debate sponsored by CNN, Hillary was asked about the late Senator Ted Kennedy's endorsement of her opponent, Barack Obama. She quickly changed the subject to how great it would be for America to elect the first woman president.
CLINTON: Well, I have the greatest respect for Senator Kennedy and the Kennedy family. And I'm proud to have three of Senator Robert Kennedy's children, Bobby and Kathleen and Kerry, supporting me. But what I this is…
What I think is exciting is that the way we are looking at the Democratic field, now down to the two of us is, is we're going to get big change. We're going to have change. I think having the first woman president would be a huge change for America and the world.
During her closing statement at an NBC News debate on Feb. 26, 2008, Clinton emphasized the hell out of her gender:
You know, obviously I am thrilled to be running, to be the first woman president, which I think would be a sea change in our country and around the world, and would give enormous … you know, enormous hope and, you know, a real challenge to the way things have been done, and who gets to do them, and what the rules are.
But don't take my word for it. The New York Times editorial board, which endorsed Hillary in January 2008, did not seem to think she was "ignoring the appeal of the historic nature of her candidacy" at the time. Quite the opposite, in fact:
By choosing Mrs. Clinton, we are not denying Mr. Obama’s appeal or his gifts. The idea of the first African-American nominee of a major party also is exhilarating, and so is the prospect of the first woman nominee. "Firstness" is not a reason to choose. The times that false choice has been raised, more often by Mrs. Clinton, have tarnished the campaign.
Perhaps the Times editorial board has to be even more critical of Hillary now that she has decided to base her campaign on this tarnishing concept. In any event, the Clinton campaign's preferred narrative here seems to be a bizarre rewriting of history that doesn't really serve any purpose. On the other hand, "Hillary vows to emphasize gender again" sounds pretty pathetic.