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Clinton Rollout: Careful and Cautious but Not Colorful

Image: HiIlary Rodham Clinton

HiIlary Rodham Clinton holds a copy of her new book "Hard Choices," at the start of a book signing at Harvard Book Store, Monday, June 16, 2014, in Cambridge, Mass. Steven Senne / AP

In her two-week book blitz, Hillary Clinton has been very much like a presidential candidate: careful, cautious and rarely colorful.

The thousands of words she uttered, in interviews with all the major television networks, USA Today and National Public Radio, were most remarkable for what she didn’t say: anything very surprising. Even her much-discussed remark that she and President Bill Clinton were “broke” when they left the White House was new only in its awkward phrasing. After all, both Clintons have repeatedly defended the millions they have made in speaking fees since leaving the White House as making up for some of the debt they carried before. Clinton’s early advocacy for arming the Syrian rebels, an issue on which she disagreed with Obama and noted in several of the interviews, was known during her tenure as a secretary of state.

Hillary Clinton’s Revealing Interview 2:23

Her positions on policy issues, such as her support for gay marriage and immigration reform, closely mirror President Obama’s stances and the general consensus among Democrats. Discussing the attack on the U.S diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, she used the phrase “fog of war” in several of the interviews as if she were practicing to be a presidential candidate answering the same question over and over.

Her targets for sharp criticism, such as the Tea Party and Russian President Vladimir Putin, were safe choices.

When she was pressed on more controversial issues, Clinton at times ducked them. At a town hall event hosted by CNN, Clinton was asked about reinstating the ban on assault weapons and limiting high-capacity magazines. The former first lady instead emphasized her support for background checks, a less divisive issue, and refused to answer when the woman who had asked the question tried to follow up.

She also demurred when asked if all U.S. companies should be required to have maternal leave. And she offered a noncommittal response when asked some of the opposition to Obama is based on his race, a view shared by many Democrats and something the president himself has indicated.

“I don't want to -- I don't want to say that I verify that, because that would be generalizing too broadly,” Clinton said about the possibility that Obama faced such racism. “I believe that there are people who have trouble with ethnicity, with race, with gender, with sexual orientation, you name it. And therefore, they are not developing a reasoned opinion.”

At one point during the CNN event, she started an answer with “at the risk of radical candor,” and then described how she views marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington as part of an experiment in states that she wants to see play out. The answer was not radical and did not display much candor: Obama has said almost the exact same thing.

I do believe that a woman in any high public position -- whether it be journalism, politics, business, whatever -- is always constantly being judged

In fact, her caution at times seemed to cause its own challenges. In an interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Clinton refused to say she had personally “evolved” in moving from opposition to support for gay marriage, instead repeatedly noting that society had changed as a whole. It was not until a few days later, with CNN, that Clinton was more direct, saying “So, yes, I evolved over time.”

The interviews suggested a Clinton campaign would not be groundbreaking in terms of public policy. There was little daylight between Obama and Clinton, or Clinton and the broader Democratic Party on a wide range of domestic policy issues.

But Clinton did show at times the kind of combativeness towards Republicans that some Democrats have spent years wishing Obama would display. Asked by NBC’s Cynthia McFadden about turning over Benghazi-related notes from her time as a secretary of state, Clinton said of Republicans, “They can read it in the book.”

She offered a few interesting personal details, calling Arizona Sen. John McCain her favorite Republican and saying she has never used marijuana.

Hillary Clinton: Why I might not run for president 3:28

And in what is likely to be the biggest difference between 2008 and if she wages a campaign next year, Clinton spoke bluntly and directly about her views on gender, both as a challenge for her and for other women.

“But I do believe that a woman in any high public position -- whether it be journalism, politics, business, whatever -- is always constantly being judged,” she said in the CNN interview. “And you then can fall into what is a kind of bad habit of constantly editing yourself, instead of thinking about what you're trying to say, what you're trying to do, you know, you do worry about all of that personal prob -- you know, all the personal stuff that goes with hair and makeup and clothes and -- you know all the drill.”

In a USA Today interview she went even further, essentially giving advice to young women as if she were Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook executive who wrote the best-selling book "Lean In."

“Women need to develop, as Eleanor Roosevelt famously said, skin as thick as the hide of a rhinoceros, because when you go in the public arena ... you will run into the double standard. You will be held to a different standard in the way you dress, the way you present yourself, all of that. We see it every day,” Clinton said. “Young women or any woman who wants to be on the stage — whether in politics or business or journalism or anything — just has to toughen up.”