For a few moments this evening, an outdoor gathering on Philadelphia’s Independence Mall conjured images of a 2016 presidential debate stage, with the most closely watched members of the nation’s two political dynasties — each viewed by their opposing parties as promising potential candidates for the White House — sharing a stage.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the former senator, 2008 Democratic primary rival of President Barack Obama and wife of former President Bill Clinton, was at the National Constitution Center to receive the Liberty Medal for her advocacy of women and girls worldwide. The center’s chairman, Jeb Bush, the Republican former Florida governor who is the second son of former President George H. W. Bush and brother of former President George W. Bush, was there to bestow the award.
With a nonpartisan civic educational organization as their host, politics wasn’t on the evening’s agenda for either one of them. Still Clinton, who hasn’t said whether she will make a second presidential run, is the Democrats’ best known and most popular potential 2016 candidate. And Bush has flirted openly with a bid.
“Secretary Clinton is out of office. So am I — I’m not sure what people will expect to happen here tonight,” Bush quipped. “Hillary and I come from different political parties, and we disagree about a few things, but we do agree on the wisdom of the American people — especially those in Iowa and New Hampshire and South Carolina,” he added as Clinton applauded and laughed from her seat.
Jeb on Hillary: “we disagree about lots of things but we do agree on the wisdom of the American ppl esp those in IA & NH & SC” #LibertyMedal
— Julie Davis (@juliehdavis) September 10, 2013
Clinton herself, keenly aware of the attention on her political ambitions and being careful not to step on Obama’s primetime address about an hour afterward on Syria, also eschewed 2016 humor in her 16-minute speech.
“Jeb and I are not just renewing an American tradition of bipartisanship, we’re keeping up a family tradition as well,” she said, noting that Bill Clinton and the elder former President Bush, who shared the Liberty Medal seven years ago, have formed a friendship that has made them what she called the “classic odd couple of American politics.”
“We also share something that is far more important than any of our political differences,” Clinton said of her possible future rival. “We both love this country, and we believe in the wisdom of our founders and the Constitution.”
A McClatchy-Marist Poll conducted in July found Clinton defeating Bush in a hypothetical general-election matchup, Clinton drawing support from 48 percent compared with Bush’s 40 percent. She was also by far her party’s favored nominee, with backing from 63 percent of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, while Bush was backed by just 10 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.
It didn’t take long for the tribute to Clinton to morph into a politically tinged pep rally. University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann said she and many others were looking forward to the “first woman president of the United States,” turning to look meaningfully at Clinton.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter followed up with his own prediction. “I fully expect that she will break another barrier in four years, and she will be the first first lady to walk back into the White House in her own right as president of the United States America,” Nutter said. “And I assume that she’ll take President Clinton along with her.”
As Clinton delivered her remarks, and Obama prepared to address the nation about Syria from the White House protesters could be heard in the far distance near the Liberty Bell, chanting slogans including “Hands off Syria!” — a different kind of reminder for Clinton of the challenges she might face as a presidential candidate.