Hillary Clinton makes a splash in Chicago, but not an overtly political one

In her first policy speech since leaving the State Department, Hillary Clinton made no firm declarations of political intentions. But she did laud the role of women in politics.

Scott Eisen/AP
Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Meeting in Chicago, Thursday. Her speech Thursday was a broad-brush address heralding the power of women and talking education and opportunity.

She is the Illinois girl made good, after all, and so perhaps it’s a natural that Hillary Rodham Clinton chose Chicago for her first policy speech since leaving the State Department.

Her speech Thursday at the Clinton Global Initiative America conference that she is co-hosting with her husband was a broad-brush address heralding the power of women and talking education and opportunity.

But it was not – no surprise here – an obvious return to the political fray. No firm declarations of intentions this June day. Instead, call it her national stage debut as a much-watched private citizen.

"When women participate in the economy, everyone benefits. This also should be a no-brainer," Mrs. Clinton said. "When women participate in peacemaking and peacekeeping, we are all safer and more secure. And when women participate in politics, the effects ripple out across society."

Her comments – much as her Twitter debut was just a few days ago – are being mined by 2016 watchers for every clue about whether she’ll run for president and what that bid might look like. Perhaps of most note, she talked a great deal about leveling the field for women, and women, of course, handed the White House to President Obama in the last two national elections.

What is also clear is that the Clintons remain formidable manipulators of the political press. Even as news breaks of a prostitution and drugs scandal involving staff at the State Department while she was in charge, Hillary Clinton is ignoring the hubbub and generating the headlines she wants.

NBC’s First Read teased the speech with this: “Hillary fully steps out of Bill Clinton’s shadow.”

Meanwhile, the Clinton foundation is being renamed the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.

Clinton used her foundation remarks to outline her goals for her work with the organization, and she hinted at another “exciting announcement” she’ll make tomorrow.

During Clinton’s 30-minute speech, she called her work for children “a core cause of my life,” according to The New York Times, and she said helping women to succeed at work and families to thrive – creating more opportunities for women and girls – is “the great unfinished business of this century.”

She wants to “make equal pay a reality,” expand family and medical leave benefits, encourage women to pursue careers in science and math, technology and engineering, among other priorities touched on.

She received a standing ovation from the friendly crowd of hundreds of business and political leaders, including Treasury Secretary Jack Lew (who was director of the Office of Management and Budget under former President Clinton), Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers; and Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, among other notables.

From her perch at State, a globetrotting Clinton visited 112 countries. She appears to be returning her attention to domestic issues.

“Women are the world’s most underused resource,” Clinton said, as she touted those areas of interest in which she’ll invest her time and personal capital.

Would that line fit on a 2016 bumper sticker?

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