Ready for … Charity?

The Utter Genius of Hillary’s Non-Campaign

Candidate or not, Hillary Clinton has a band of reporters follow her everywhere and cover everything she does—even the success stories of her family charity.

03.09.15 10:15 PM ET

Ignore the grumblings from a restless political press, the pundits, and her supposed political allies urging her to drop the pretense and declare her a candidate already.

The Hillary Clinton non-campaign campaign is a work of utter political genius. Seriously. It makes Frank Underwood look like Michael Dukakis.

On Monday, Clinton came to the center of the universe, the crossroads of the world, the Best Buy Theater in the heart of Times Square. The occasion was that most brutally banal bits of politicking—the issuing of a report.

The importance of this one couldn’t be denied; called “No Ceilings,” it was about the worldwide inequities women and girls face. As the report spelled out, those inequities are lessening, but real. Girls have achieved near equality in primary school education, but lag behind globally in the grades beyond. Corporate boardrooms remain woefully unequal, access to health care inadequate.

But there was another part of the report that helped explain why a throng of, by my count at least, 40 reporters, never mind another clutch of television cameras, flocked to hear about the results of an otherwise dry rundown of global data.

Looking at 87 countries from 1900 to the present, the report found that only 33 percent of them have or have ever had a female head of government. Today, just 18 countries do, a meager sum but 50 percent better than the global score 20 years ago.

Of course, Hillary Clinton would like to add to that figure, and the project’s title, “No Ceilings,” serves as a reminder of Clinton’s closing line of her last campaign, about putting 18 million cracks in that highest, hardest glass one.

The release of Monday’s report, and a speech Tuesday when Clinton is to keynote a United Nations event about women’s empowerment, were supposed to be the ramp-up for the time when the Godot-like period of Clinton’s 2016 campaign ends, and the deus ex machina of consultants, pollsters, and fundraisers would descend from the rafters.

Those plans seem to have been put on hold for the moment as Clinton mutely weathers a series of scandals, including about the Clinton Foundation taking money from foreign donors and Clinton setting up a secretive email system while Secretary of State.

Needless to say, close to zero of the assembled press were much interested in what the details of the report actually said.

They were there in case Clinton—who is rumored to have a response to the email scandal coming as soon as this week—chose this moment to say her piece.

She didn’t.

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Hillary made no more mention of her homebrew email system than she did of what looks hot on Broadway this season. The growing cadre of reporters assigned to cover every Clinton public appearance, were for an afternoon at least not trying to find out if a Gulf emir had delivered suitcases of cash to the Clinton Foundation’s midtown headquarters. Instead, it was as if the lot of us had for the moment been given new jobs as beat reporters for The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Let other candidates talk about ethanol subsidies, or whether evolution is real or if vaccines work. Clinton is the globe’s Do-Gooder-In-Chief, albeit one who can command Melinda Gates, America Ferrera, and the first female president of Croatia to her events.

As a political reporter myself, it is hard not to feel as if all of this is a rebuke to my chosen line of work. Here I am, hoping for some drip of news, or at least an ill-considered remark that can be read as an oblique reference to the latest maelstrom, wondering how much can be read into Clinton’s vigorous nodding while Melinda Gates talks about the importance of proper data-gathering.

Instead, what comes is what actually matters about politics: improving lives.

A Haitian midwife spoke about infant mortality and death during childbirth. Two girls from Afghanistan spoke about improving education access.

A pair from India talked about curbing domestic violence.

Hillary didn’t say a word about Iowa or New Hampshire, or who her campaign manager would be.

She did say, “One area we don’t have as much data as I wish we did and therefore don’t have the kind of clarity we need to make the case is about the relationship between women and the environment. There is still very little sex-disaggregated data out there about these sets of issues, and that is a problem because the impacts of climate change are already shaping the lives of women and girls around the world.”

On and on it went. No editor sent a reporter to Times Square to bring that kind of quote, and by the time Clinton delivered it, most of the reporters had either closed their laptops, or left.

And I am no better. Hell, I decided I had had enough when Malala Yousafzai skyped in from her schoolroom in Pakistan.

Out in the lobby was Andrea Mitchell and her team, who had rushed over from 30 Rock on the off chance that Clinton would say something interesting. Turn back, Andrea! There is no news to be found in there!

Still, we all deserve credit for trying. At the end of the event, the press was herded outside and waited patiently off Times Square for Clinton to emerge.

Had she been a real honest-to-God-no-fooling-candidate, she almost surely would have been forced to oblige a question or two.

Someone at the front of the line—it sounded like Mitchell-- did manage to ask something about the emails, but Clinton merely smiled and waved, and climbed into her waiting black vehicle, and was gone, a still non-candidate, safe inside her own protective seal.