In her first interview since the election, Hillary Clinton, the first female candidate to be nominated for president by a major US political party, called the outcome devastating, but said after long walks in the woods and spending time with her grandkids, “As a person, I’m okay, [but] as an American, I’m pretty worried.”
Clinton was speaking to the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof at the Women in the World Summit in New York on Thursday (April 6).
‘I certainly think misogyny played a role’
And it perhaps comes as no surprise Clinton is working on a book looking into why the election played out the way it did – including the fact that more than half of white women voted for a man who bragged about assaulting them.
Acknowledging she has spent “a lot of time wrestling with this,” Clinton – no surprise here either – doesn’t think there’s one answer.
“In any campaign, there are so many cross-currents…but I certainly think misogyny played a role,” she said.
Her upcoming book will take a deeper dive, but that, of course is to be determined.
“There is a struggle in time of change between something different – with possible positive consequences – and something familiar, [which is] about the security of what you have right now,” Clinton said. “There’s a very real struggle between what is viewed as change that is welcomed and exciting, and change which is worrisome…and layer on that the first woman president and some [voters] had a real problem.”
Clinton said this led some voters to look to the opposition and say, “He looks like someone who has been president before…and I hope he does a little of what he says.”
‘It’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s new every time it happens to you’
Kristof pointed to young women galvanized by Clinton’s loss in ways they were not by her campaign and asked for her thoughts on their struggle between wanting to take action for positive change and their anxiety about the nastiness of public life.
Clinton’s response? “Yeah, be ready. It’s not a new phenomenon, but it’s new every time it happens to you.”
She intends to spend a lot of time encouraging women to go into politics and public service not only because it’s a worthy and satisfying way to contribute – but also because America needs women in politics and public service. That being said, it’s not an easy road, as Clinton can clearly attest.
“Eleanor Roosevelt said every woman in the public arena needs to grow skin as thick as a rhinoceros,” Clinton said. “Boy, do I relate to that.”
Clinton said she wants women to be involved and is “thrilled by the activity going on” with citizens “showing up at town halls and making tens of thousands of calls to derail that terrible healthcare bill.” However women who follow her lead into the public sphere will undoubtedly face criticism and will have to take it seriously but not personally, she said.
‘By the time they finished with me, I was Typhoid Mary’
She pointed to Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In as well as the academics who have talked about the disconnect between men, in which success and ambition are correlated with likeability, and women who experience the opposite.
Case in point: Clinton said she had a 65% approval rating when she left the State Department.
“I came out and some said I was the most popular public official in politics,” Clinton said. “Well, what happened? By the time they finished with me, I was Typhoid Mary. Poor Mary, she didn’t deserve it either.”
As soon as Clinton declared her intent to run for the highest office, she faced pushback and doubt all of a sudden – even from those who supported her as Secretary of State.
“I am not perfect, which everyone knows by now,” Clinton said. “But I don’t any longer take it personally. Part of the attacks – part of the bullying, the name calling, which have become much more pervasive because of the Internet – is to crush your spirit and make you doubt yourself and I refuse to do that.”
‘The weaponization of information’
Clinton and her team have spent a lot of time thinking about her campaign and there are certainly things they could have done better, but outside intervention – including the letter to Congress from FBI Director James Comey saying the bureau was investigating more emails just days before the election and Wikileaks - “played a much bigger role than many understand yet.”
In fact, Clinton noted statistician Nate Silver’s own election autopsy determined if it wasn’t for the Comey letter, Clinton would have won.
She called Russia’s success in influencing voters “the weaponization of information” – and stolen communications “a theft even more effective than Watergate” – but, again, we’ll have to wait for Clinton's book “to give as clear and credible an explanation of these factors as I can.”
‘I don’t understand the commitment to hurt so many people that this administration seems to be pursuing’
Meanwhile, Clinton doesn’t take any pleasure in seeing the chaotic functioning of the Trump administration and acknowledged the presidency is “the hardest job you can imagine.”
At the same time, Clinton said, “I don’t understand the commitment to hurt so many people that this administration seems to be pursuing.”
That includes the travel ban, as well as the healthcare bill.
“[After] having listened to [Republicans] talk about repeal/replace for seven years…they had no clue what that meant,” she said. “I’m not sure any of them read the bill, knew the law, understood how it worked. Healthcare is complicated…[so] that was somewhat gratifying.”
Although, to be fair this comment came after Kristof asked if she didn’t have even the tiniest bit of schadenfreude.
In addition, the Global Gag Rule, which blocks federal funding for NGOs that provide or advocate for abortion in any way, shape or form, and the defunding of the UN Population Fund, which addresses reproductive health and population issues, seriously hurt women in particular and are absolutely beyond any political agenda, according to Clinton.
“It’s not just right and moral, it’s in our national security interest,” Clinton said. “The more we support women, the more we support democracy. Women’s issues are national security issues.”
Clinton also laughed – albeit somewhat morbidly – over questions from men in Trump’s cabinet, like why they have to cover maternity care.
“There’s that classic picture of all the men sitting around the table talking about how to defund Planned Parenthood and end maternity care [and I thought], ‘That’s gotta be from a skit on SNL,” Clinton said.
Top-level meeting for feline health care. pic.twitter.com/4coFds9ZIW — Sherry Frost (@frostnhstaterep) March 24, 2017
‘I’m looking at doing interesting things’
And even though problems in, say, Syria may seem far away to many Americans, Clinton points out that we are an interconnected, interdependent world now more than ever because of mobility and communications.
“What happens in other places can have an impact on you,” she said. “The world took a position after World War I…we took a stand against the use of chemical weapons…it’s important we take a strong stance. We have to start recognizing norms of behavior are just as important in keeping the peace as any laws written down. People have to know they will be held responsible.”
With that, Kristof asked if Clinton will run for office again – and she delivered a response straight out of Poli Sci 101, saying she was “not making any plans to do anything,” and is “looking at doing interesting things.”
She spoke of her long-running work with children, as well as “the unfinished business of the 21st century – rights and opportunities for women and girls.”
So, while we know where to find Trump for the foreseeable future, we’ll have to wait and see what Clinton’s next act will be – whether that’s mayor of New York or another role on the world’s stage.
For now, she seems to have come to terms with the status quo – and might have even honed her sense of humor on those long walks in the woods.
In fact, in talking about her own dealings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, she wryly noted, “He is not exactly fond of strong women…although he did shake hands with me.”
Sandberg - along with Mark D’Arcy, VP, chief creative officer of the Facebook Creative Shop and Nicola Mendelsohn, Facebook VP of EMEA - will be guest editor of The Drum’s global July issue, to debut at Cannes Lions.