Hillary Rodham Clinton may not have revealed much about her presidential plans during the first television interview of her book tour, but she reminded Americans why she would be a formidable candidate — filleting her critics with a smile, deflecting questions she didn't want to answer and displaying the wit that often did not shine through in her 2008 presidential run.
Under tough questioning from ABC's Diane Sawyer during an hourlong prime-time special Monday night, the former secretary of State offered a point-by-point defense of her actions when the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi came under attack in 2012. She sought to explain why she and her husband needed to collect millions in speaking fees — an answer that drew immediate derision from her critics. And she batted away questions about former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, testifying to the strength of her marriage to Bill Clinton.
"I am 100% in the camp that says forgiveness is mostly about the forgiver. I know too many people, having now lived as long as I have, who can never get over it," Clinton said during an interview segment when Sawyer asked about her husband's dalliance with Lewinsky and how her marriage had evolved. "Forgiveness is a way of opening up the doors again and moving forward, whether it's a personal life or a national life."
Clinton, whose new book "Hard Choices" will be published Tuesday, added that her marriage had been one of the great blessings of her life, because she and her husband make each other laugh and support one another.
She quickly dispensed with questions about Lewinsky's recent reemergence with an essay in Vanity Fair.
"She's perfectly free to do that," Clinton said. "She is, in my view, an American who gets to express herself however she chooses, but that's not something that I spend a lot of time thinking about."
Clinton declined to address a report in the papers of her close friend Diane Blair that as first lady she'd called Lewinsky "a narcissistic loony-tune."
"I am not going to comment on what I did or did not say back in the late '90s," she replied, adding that she wished Lewinsky well and hoped she had been able to "construct a life that she finds meaning and satisfaction in."
Clinton, who said she would make a decision on the 2016 campaign by early next year, said she had grown during eight years as first lady, eight years as a senator from New York and her tenure in the Obama administration. "I have tried to become a deeper, more understanding, more open, more grateful person as I've gone through these last 20 years because I don't think you need more political combat in our country," she said.
But she clearly has thought a great deal about the missteps that led her to lose the 2008 Democratic contest to Barack Obama, and particularly the aura of inevitability that surrounded and stilted her campaign. She suggested that she had just assumed that Americans knew her and never explicitly said, "I don't take anything for granted. I have to earn your support."
If she decided to run in 2016, she said, she would work as "an underdog or any newcomer."
At the same time, she noted the "double standard" that she faced in 2008 and that she said still exists for women in the public eye, offering as an example the constant obsession with her clothes and her hair. "When you're in the spotlight as a woman, you know you're being judged constantly. I mean it's never-ending," she said.
While Clinton has managed to essentially clear the field of competition as she makes a decision on a run for the Democratic nomination, she insisted that other potential candidates could make decisions on their own timetables.
And she dispatched several zingers for her opponents on the Republican side. On Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's recent quip that the 2016 Democratic ticket might look like a "rerun" of the "Golden Girls," Clinton dryly replied: "That was a very popular, long-running series."
When asked about Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul's assertion that it was fair game to talk about her husband's affair with Lewinsky, Clinton told Sawyer that Paul "can talk about what he wants to talk about."
"And if he decides to run, he'll be fair game too for everybody," she added.
Which sounded just a little bit like a threat.