Imagine the possibilities.

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This article was published 22/1/2015 (2308 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

Imagine the possibilities.

If Hillary Clinton goes on to become president of the United States in 2016 -- a race that begins, remarkably, in just a couple of months -- then at least 2,000 Winnipeggers will be able to say that they sampled a bit of political history.

Clinton's speech in Winnipeg Wednesday was a unique, maybe even historic, opportunity to share the same room with someone who seems destined to make history over the next two years.

Clinton is, at the moment, the presumptive front-runner in the campaign to find the Democratic Party's presidential nominee for the 2016 election. Although there is a long and varied list of potential candidates -- encompassing everyone from Vice-President Joe Biden and Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley to Minnesota Sen. Al Franken and even actor George Clooney -- Clinton is an overwhelming choice in pre-primary season polls.

Those in attendance at the luncheon event got a good, first-hand look at why she is a formidable political force. Clinton has understated charisma, a smooth and elegant presence that exudes confidence. Her 20-minute speech, which was followed by about a 30-minute question-and-answer session with CIBC CEO Victor Dodig was a triumph in concise, knowledgeable dissertation and banter. She was serious one moment, inspirational the next. She was even genuinely funny in a couple of exchanges that were clearly not on the teleprompter she used for her speech.

Clinton also showed in spades that she shares her former president husband's capacity for inspiration.

Bill Clinton was, in his heyday, a truly remarkable orator. He had that special retail political gift of being able to talk in aspirational, inspirational terms without seeming glib or insincere. He built a political profile as a smart, grounded leader that played so well, it carried him through two terms as president. His wife certainly has her own abilities for that kind of leadership.

And yet, listening to her expound on the virtues of greater investment in education, the evils of income disparity and the need for a united, global response to terrorism, it's hard to forget that Clinton is still just a politician trapped within the dysfunctional political system now vogue in the United States.

Clinton several times referred to U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address, delivered Tuesday night. She was asked about the division in Congress -- evident in that less than half of the House chamber of the U.S. Capitol, containing the members of both the Senate and House of Representatives, was showing any support for Obama. In Clinton's view, there was nothing remarkble about the cold, uninterested posture of Congressional Republicans. This, Clinton argued, was no different than the audience that greeted her husband in eight different State of the Union speeches.

And yet, the evidence suggests that it is different. Facing a Republican majority in both the House and the Senate, Obama is locked in a dangerous political battle to push new projects and programs on a hostile Congress that has sworn to oppose anything and everything he does on partisan grounds.

More so than any other country in the world, the U.S. has the capacity to celebrate political poets one moment and sacrifice them on the altar of partisan politics the next. The concern over the U.S. Congress has less to do with which party is imposing its will on the legislative agenda; it's that both parties are so dug in, Congress has no agenda. And no poet, no matter how elegant and inspirational, can survive that dynamic.

Does Hillary Clinton represent an antidote to the current standoff in Washington? It would be wrong to underestimate the potential of a woman who rose from the role of first lady -- an honourable post in the U.S. political system but one with little in the way of political future -- to become a senator, a presidential candidate, a secretary of state and an opinion leader in the Democratic Party. That is a narrative that is virtually unprecedented in our southern neighbour's political history.

Regardless of political ideology, it would be great if there was broad support for Clinton's stated agenda. Politicians who force us to dream more and do more are in great demand right now. The U.S., perhaps more than any country in the world, needs to be led by a great motivator.

If Clinton is able to survive the war of attrition that is the U.S. primary system, and if she is able to somehow reverse the recent electoral failures by Democrats and capture the 2016 presidential vote, she will get a chance to put her inspirational rhetoric into action.

And those of us in Winnipeg who got a chance to see and hear her at this critical moment in her political career will be able to say that we were there.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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