PISCATAWAY, NJ - She wasn't there to explain what happened. She did not opine about the current administration. She did not shake her fist at the moon. Hillary Rodham Clinton was at Rutgers University on Thursday to encourage women and young people to become involved in politics and to vote every chance they get.
Before an audience of about 6,000 at the Rutgers Athletic Center, Clinton had a "conversation" with Dr. Ruth Mandel of the Eagleton Institute of Politics based on questions submitted by Rutgers students. During his introduction to the event, Rutgers Chancellor Deba Dutta enumerated some of the political luminaries who have spoken in the past at Eagleton programs: John Lewis, Sonia Sotomayor, Joe Biden, and Barack Obama. He noted that "Rutgers is engaged in research in politics so as to strengthen both our democracy and our society."
Dutta was followed by Lora Valmoro of Mahwah, NJ, a graduate of Rutgers College who also received a Master's degree at the London School of Economics. Balmoral has served as Clinton's scheduler for "5,475 days, making every day count." Her role, she said, was "her 'don't dare to dream' job." Valmoro started working in politics while she was a Rutgers student as a volunteer for the 1992 Clinton/Gore campaign. Later in the presentation, Clinton referred to Valmoro and the importance of encouraging young people to do all the "many jobs there are to do on campaigns and in government."
Ruth Mandel introduced Clinton as "the most well-known person nobody knows." She noted that the former Secretary of State had topped the Gallup Poll for "Most Admired Woman in the World" 22 times. Nonetheless, Mandel asked Clinton what she wished people knew about her, even though she is so famous.
Clinton then talked about life in the public eye, in which "people get a fragmented view of you." A lawyer before her husband was elected President of the United States, Clinton immediately got into a public role and "entered the vortex of a political struggle" centered on universal health care. She wanted those in attendance to remember her lifelong commitment to children and health. She also said that she wished that, like everyone, she was "judged on what we do, not on what people say we do."
Clinton then fielded a question about her current involvement in national politics. Said Mandel, "Some people ask why you don't get off the public stage and shut up."
The former First Lady sighed and responded: "Following the election, I took lots of long walks in the woods and drank a lot of Chardonnay." "Then," she said, " I remembered that I was committed to speaking out and to having a voice in the debate." She then began an extended commentary on the role of women in politics, noting that former Presidential candidate Mitt Romney is running for the Senate, and "nobody is telling him to shut up."
"The work is a marathon, not a sprint," said Clinton.
She then described three ways to keep the momentum going for women in politics, beginning with "convincing more women to get involved, despite how difficult that is." She stressed that "You will face attacks. Advocate for what you believe. It's worth it." She added that not everyone wants to be the candidate and that there are many political roles.
Clinton then stated that there is currently a backlash against women seeking office, especially since her defeat in 2016. She added that "there will always be discomfort. That's part of breaking through that glass ceiling." She then encouraged those who are new to politics to "hang in there because it takes a long time. Everyone gets discouraged. When you advocate for change, you will find that other people do not want that to happen. If we don't change the people making decisions, change will not happen."
She began to return to the theme of getting out the vote. Clinton described the efforts of Onward Together, a political action fund she started with Governor Howard Dean in 2017, which supports the candidacy and political training of women and minorities interested in seeking office locally and nationally. She said that the "party structure needs to be more welcoming... to help us get through the period we are in now."
A good deal of Clinton's remarks centered on the changing climate and behaviors of elected officials in Washington, whom she perceives as less collegial and friendly in general. "Nobody stays in DC anymore." She praised former Republican President George W. Bush for getting the support her constituents in New York (where she was a Senator) needed following 9/11 because he maintained ongoing relationships with everyone involved so that decisions, especially those involving first responders, could be made.
"At the heart of everything are relationships. If you don't build on these relationships, you can't move forward," said Clinton. She added that the current Senate sees only division and partisanship. Returning to the issue of voting, she said that "People will demand that members of Congress work together." In a brief reference to the current administration under President Donald J. Trump, Clinton said that "Members of Congress are being watched. The Republican Party is being held captive by a small group of very powerful forces, causing an intense partisanship within the party with elected officials worried about being displaced."
Clinton added, "Moderate Republicans are leaving due to money spent by the far right. I am missing the voice of John McCain."
The question "Will there be a woman President of the United States anytime soon?" lit a fire under Clinton. She referred to denigrating comments made during the election about her personally - "I'd vote for a woman, but not THAT woman" - as both hurtful and untrue. After the election, she said, "Women running for office around the country got hammered."
She pointed to the dismissive treatment of Senator Elizabeth Warren on the floor of the Senate by Senator Mitch McConnell. "We have to call this behavior out," she said. "Women should be allowed to be themselves as men are allowed to be themselves." She recalled that she was criticized by Trump for preparing for the debates. "I was characterized as the fourth-grade girl who does her homework and raises her hand."
She went on to express concern about "Russia, China, Iran, cyber-warfare, and the threat to the rule of law." She said that the word of the United States is no longer trusted among our allies because we have walked away from agreements.
Clinton closed with an affirmation of the work being done by the students from Parkland, Fla who have taken many strides to get their anti-gun violence message spread. She again urged people to vote and to become involved in politics.
"American people end up doing the right thing," she said.