Hillary Clinton spoke at length with New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof at the annual Women in the World summit, on matters from election night to Vladimir Putin to the pervasive and ingrained misogyny that affects any and all women in public service. And she once again showed the integrity, intelligence, and amiability that garnered her the popular vote win.
Hillary Clinton is an inspiration to anyone who has felt knocked down by life.
After a long and grueling campaign, and a shock result on election night, her character and self-confidence has never faltered. From a moving concession speech, to her brave appearance at the inauguration, to her passionate support of "the great unfinished business of the 21st century" — advancing the rights of women and girls around the world — Clinton has remained exactly the person whom millions of Americans wanted as their next President.
And in a thoughtful and wide-ranging interview at the 2017 Women in the World summit, she again proved that she had earned every one of those votes.
After a humorous and touching introduction by television talk show host Samantha Bee — who surely spoke for so many when she declared, "I'm only going to say this once, though you deserve to hear it a hundred times: It should have been you." — Clinton joined New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof on stage for a discussion that ranged from topics foreign and domestic, personal and public, serious and light-hearted.
Kristof opened by asking Clinton how she was doing, to which she replied, "As a person, I'm okay. As an American, I'm pretty worried." She noted the concern of many, which she shares, about the "act of aggression" carried out by Russia against the United States, and that Russian President Vladimir Putin — whom Clinton noted, to applause, is "not exactly fond of strong women" — wanted to cause widespread confusion and doubt to aid the advancement of his own power. And she voiced support for an independent, nonpartisan investigation to fend off future incursions.
In response to a question about what role misogyny played in the election results, Clinton was careful to note that there are many things which impact any campaign, but also that "certainly misogyny played a role — I mean, that just has to be admitted." She remarked on how afraid of change so many people, men and women, can be, and that perhaps the first woman president was simply too much of a new thing for a lot of the voters.
And when Kristof noted that many young women who may wish to go into politics are uneasy about doing so, because of the misogyny and cruelty they will likely experience, Clinton stated her plan to work with organizations that encourage and support women in the political arena, to act as a mentor to those who are new to the trials involved. And she offered some astute and wholly relatable thoughts on her own lived experience as a woman in the public eye.
With men, success and ambition are correlated with likability, so the more successful a man is, the more likable he becomes. With a woman, guess what, it's the exact opposite. So the more successful and therefore ambitious a woman is, the less likable she becomes. That's the inverse correlation that lies at the heart of a lot of the attacks and the misogyny. And it's unconscious, it's not like people, you know, say to themselves, 'Well, you know, she's ambitious, she's successful, therefore, I don't like her anymore.' But the way our politics is structured, and high level public positions, that seems to be sort of baked into the reality.
So, when I think about — I left the State Department as Secretary of State, I had like a 64, 65 percent approval rating. People thought I had really done a good job, which I was, you know, very touched by. (applause) And it was a job that I was asked to do by a man, President Obama, right? So, I did it to the best of my ability and came out, and some people said at the time, 'The most popular public official' or 'high profile public person in politics in the country.' Well, what happened? Oh my gosh, you know, by the time they finished with me, I was Typhoid Mary! And poor Mary, I mean, she didn't deserve it, either, when you go back and look at the history. (laughter and applause)
So, what happened? Well, I said, 'You know, I think I could be a really good president for our country at this point in our history, and I think I will run for president.' And so from that moment, all of a sudden, from that high point of being the Secretary of State of the United States of America, I became a candidate seeking the highest office in the land and asking people to support me. And even people who had supported me in the media during my time as Secretary of State, or even as Senator, you know, all of a sudden it's like 'Who is she, what does she want?' You know, I always feel like I'm in Waiting for Godot. (laughter) I mean, I've been around, and some people say too long, and other people say, 'Well, we don't know her.' I mean, I have a pretty long record of who I am and what I stand for and what I've done. But it really did verify, unfortunately, that research.
So, I guess the final thing is: I want you to be involved. I am thrilled by all the activity that's going on — recruiting young people to run, showing up at town halls, making tens of thousands of phone calls that helped derail that terrible health care bill that the House Republicans were working on. (applause) But toughen up your skin. Take criticism seriously, but not personally. In other words — look, I am not perfect, everybody knows that by now. So I am always open to people saying, 'Well, you should have done that.' Sometimes I don't quite know how to fix what they are concerned about, but I try. So I take it seriously, but I don't any longer, and haven't for a long time, take it personally, because part of the attacks — the personal attacks, part of the bullying, part of the name-calling that has certainly become much more pervasive because of the internet — is to crush your spirit, to make you feel inadequate, to make you doubt yourself. And I just refused to do that, and that infuriated them even more. (applause)
Kristof then began to ask about the Clinton team's "autopsy" of the election, asking to what extent they assigned blame for the loss on her primary opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders, or on the media for their excessive focus on her emails, to which Clinton looked at her wrist and asked with a laugh, "How much time do we have?" But she then grew serious, noting that it was a fair question, one that her team and many others have spent a lot of time trying to answer.
And the assessments she offered certainly mirror that of many observers:
But I think it is fair to say that the outside intervention, the combination of the Comey letter on October 28th, WikiLeaks — which played a much bigger role than I think many people understand yet — had the determinative effect. Nate Silver, whom you know well and who was much more cautious throughout the election, saying 'Well, you know this could happen,' still thought I was going to win. And his autopsy was: But for the Comey letter on October 28th, I would've won. And so, I think there are credible outside voices that I'm also trying to bring together and analyze, because for people who read my book or who are interested in this — the nearly 66 million people who voted for me (applause) — you know, I want to give as clear and as credible an explanation of these factors as I can.
So, I don't want to short circuit it now, but certainly I and everybody around, we've gone over and over and over and have learned some lessons. And I think that gets me back to Russia, in the sense that one of the lessons I think we've learned is that, since they were successful in influencing voters — that's different from the interference with the actual voting machines, and for a while there was confusion about that, a lot of people said, 'Well, can you prove that people interfered with the machines,' that's something, put that to one side, although, you know, there are people who pursue that, but put that to one side — it was really the weaponization of information, something that Putin has used inside Russia, outside Russia, to great effect, that we didn't — and I'll say this for myself — I didn't fully understand how impactful that was.
And so, it created doubts in people. But then the Comey letter, coming as it did just ten days before the election, really raised serious questions in a lot of people, that I think were obviously unfounded, but nevertheless happened. So, I think there's a combination, so we've got to be really clear — Democrats, Republicans, whatever — what was done in that election, what was unprecedented, and be willing to say 'We can't let that happen again.' Look, I don't want any Republican candidate to be subjected to what I was subjected to. I don't want anybody running campaigns or the Republican Party to have their communcations stolen — which is what it was, it was a theft, it was a more effective theft even than Watergate back in the day. So, I want people to say 'Hey, we should have tough, really aggressive campaigning, that goes with the territory. But we aren't going to let somebody sitting in the Kremlin with a thousand agents, with bots and trolls and everybody else, trying to mix up in our election. We've got to end that, and we need to make sure that's a bipartisan American commitment.' (applause)
They went on to discuss some of the current administration's moves, particularly in regard to human rights, upon which Clinton remarked, "I don't understand the commitment to hurt so many people that this administration, this White House, seems to be pursuing," with efforts such as the Muslim ban, the forceful reimplementation of the Global Gag Rule, the efforts to defund the U.N. Population Fund and Planned Parenthood, the attempts to destroy the Affordable Care Act, and the desire of many Republican men to do away with maternity coverage — the last of which led Clinton to wonder, "I don't know, maybe you were dropped by immaculate conception."
And at the end of the discussion, when Kristof asked if she had any plans to run for office again — causing her to lean back in her seat and theatrically lay her hand over her heart — she demurred on the specific question, going back to her earlier desire to help young women get into public service, and to have an impact in other ways, because "there are lots of ways to make a difference."
And as she has throughout her lifetime, on this stage, Clinton again modeled how to make that difference, and how to always stand strong while doing so, no matter what life may throw at you.