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Pressure builds on Clinton to speak out on Ferguson

As a private citizen, the former secretary of state does not feel obligated to speak out on issues of the day.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participates in \"A Conversation with Hillary Rodham Clinton\" at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Manhattan, June 12, 2014.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton participates in \"A Conversation with Hillary Rodham Clinton\" at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) in Manhattan, June 12, 2014.

With the nation gripped by the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, seemingly every political leader has weighed in, from President Barack Obama to ideological leaders like Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. But there's one conspicuous exception -- Hillary Clinton.

In the week since a police officer shot and killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown, critics have noted that the former secretary of state and likely 2016 presidential contender has partied on Martha’s Vineyard, signed books with celebrities in the Hamptons, and settled into a week of vacation on Long Island, but she has yet to say anything publicly about Ferguson.

A spokesperson for Clinton declined to comment again on Monday.

As a private citizen who holds no public office, nor is officially campaigning for one, Clinton is not obligated to say or do anything. But as she increasingly wades into politics ahead of a potential presidential run, it will be more and more difficult for her to stay mum on major issues.

At a rally on Sunday, civil rights leader and MSNBC host Al Sharpton called the protests a “defining moment” for the country on criminal justice. “Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, don’t get laryngitis on this issue,” Sharpton said. “Nobody can go to the White House unless they stop by our house and talk about policing.”

Both on the ground and on social media, many have wondered where Clinton is.

“Her party sees her as a public figure, not just another private citizen,” Kevin Madden, a former top adviser to Mitt Romney told msnbc. “They are increasingly looking to her as the next voice to emerge, beyond President Obama, since there is this recognition that Obama is being tuned out by the public. This is one of those issues and times where she’s going to need to say something, whether she wants to or not.”

On Friday, the Clinton Foundation released a “House of Cards” spoof starring Clinton and actor Kevin Spacey to celebrate Bill Clinton’s birthday. 

Clinton should do more, said Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color of Change, which has collected more than 100,000 signatures calling for accountability for the police officer who shot Brown. 

“We’re seeing her on this book tour as America is having this deep conversation around race, and we want to know where Hillary is,” Robinson told msnbc. “She could be an incredibly important voice as someone who has walked the halls of power, understands the complications of these issues, and has championed a deep relationship with white working class people [and African Americans]... She could be a bridge.”

But a former Clinton aide, who asked not to be named as they are not authorized to speak on Clinton’s behalf, defended the former secretary of state. “It's ludicrous to think that she should comment on every domestic issue,” the former aide said. “She's a private citizen, and therefore is not obligated to comment.”

It’s certainly a different problem than the Missouri's Democratic Gov. Nixon faces. Nixon, who was seen as too slow to intervene in the crisis before taking charge late last week, does not have the privilege of taking a pass. A popular two-term governor of a red state, Nixon is widely considered to be a promising national leader for the Democratic Party, and even a vice presidential option for Clinton, should she run and win the nomination. But the crisis has imperiled his future.

For most Americans who have likely never heard of Nixon before, the one thing he will be known for from now on is his handling of the turmoil in Ferguson. That outcome remains to be seen.

Ironically, many of those sympathetic to the protesters are finding that, among the potential 2016 presidential candidates, the person they most agree with right now is a Republican -- Texas Sen. Rand Paul. In an op-ed for Time magazine, Paul said the county needs to combat the racial bias inherent in the criminal justice system and to demilitarize law enforcement.