News Column

Hillary Clinton Mum on Presidential Ambitions

September 19, 2013

By Marc Caputo, The Miami Herald

Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton quietly slipped into Miami on Thursday to address a travel agents convention in a speech in which the former secretary of state said little about troubles abroad or the future ambitions of the likely presidential-race frontrunner.

When the event moderator asked what it would take for the United States to elect its first female leader, Clinton was quick with a joke.

"Well, it'll take a crazy person," she said, drawing laughs from the crowd at the American Society of Travel Agents' global convention

"I hope we break that final glass ceiling," she said, adding nothing about her plans.

Though ostensibly not political, Clinton's address had the makings of an introductory campaign speech, replete with personal anecdotes, stories of world leaders and veiled warnings about the dangers of partisanship and the fragility of American democracy.

"Compromise is not a dirty word," she said. "Compromise is only a dirty word if you think you own all the truth. And that's what I see in countries where people are punished and marginalized because of their race or their ethnicity or their tribe or their religion."

Clinton made the comments in recalling the deals her husband, President Clinton, struck with Republicans to balance the budget and approve welfare reform -- a sharp contrast to the looming fiscal fights between President Obama and congressional Republicans that could lead to a government shutdown for the first time since President Clinton's days.

Clinton's speech was tightly stage-managed. At one point, a member of the audience had his Galaxy Note II smartphone taken from him by security, which removed his picture of Clinton onstage and then gave his device back.

"It's crazy," he said.

"That's American politics," said a docent, one of a handful who roamed the aisles.

"I wanted to take pictures for my girls; I have four girls," the man told the Miami Herald. "I think Hillary Clinton who is probably running for president in 2016 would want all the publicity she could get and I think it's kind of ironic they would take the camera away."

He said he thought at one point that Clinton's handlers might have wanted to control the event to keep activists from infiltrating the event and raising awareness about issues like the attacks in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012.

Clinton's speech came a day after congressional Republicans led another hearing into the attacks and faulted her and the administrations preparations and response. Four Americans were killed in the attack, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

Many members of House Foreign Affairs Committee felt the Obama administration did little to prepare for an attack, not enough to respond and nothing significant by failing to fire or even cut the pay of anyone associated with the failures.

"It is, indeed, pathetic that still no one has been held accountable for the disastrous decisions that were made at the State Department before, during, and after this terrorist attack," MiamiRepublican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, said during the hearing.

"State continues to merely shuffle the deck chairs and employ officials who were part of the management deficiencies and systematic failures that were tragically made."

Democrats have called the criticisms a partisan show, noting that at least 13 U.S. embassies and consulates were attacked during President Bush's term, leading to the loss of at least 96 lives and the deaths of at least 10 of whom were American.

The Benghazi drumbeat, though, hasn't hurt Clinton's early poll numbers, which show she's such a front runner nationwide that she'd even best Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush in the Republicans' home state of Florida.

Clinton said nothing about Benghazi or Syria's civil war tensions over its chemical weapons.

Speaking engagingly and without notes, the crowd sat with rapt attention as Clinton gave an address for about 30 minutes and answered a few pre-screened questions from the moderator, Nikki Grossman, CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Grossman presented Clinton with a gift: a volleyball-sized glass globe filled with sand and shells.

"In some cities you get a key to the city or a plaque. In greater Fort Lauderdale, we have balls," Grossman said. "And I don't think there's a person in this room, or perhaps in this world, who doesn't think you do, too."

The crowd exploded with laughs and applauded. Clinton's smile and blush were visible in the upper-deck of the Hyatt Regency Miami auditorium.

"However, this one is full of sand, shells and love from the people of Greater Fort Lauderdaleand South Florida," Grossman said.

Clinton's speech to the travel agents was tailored to them. She stressed the importance of travel -- name-dropping countries like Togo and sharing personal anecdotes about Nelson Mandela or generals from Burma who told her they were learning about democracy from watching NBC's The West Wing, which aired from 1990-2006.

Clinton, though, credits the country's move away from a dictatorship to the fact that its generals went abroad and saw the rest of the world.
"I am convinced that travel helped change minds in the military dictatorship of Burma," Clinton said.

She also fondly recalled the first time she met and traveled with Bill Clinton, whom she described as "this long haired guy I was dating at the time" in 1973.

And Clinton fretted about the future and current state of the United States.

"The confidence of Americans in most of our important institutions have fallen to historic lows," she said. "Americans have lost loss faith in the press, churches, banks, sports heroes, you name it...Majorities across all partisan and demographic groups certainly express little or no trust in government at any level."

Original headline: In Miami speech, Hillary Clinton mum on 2016 presidential ambitions

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Source: (c)2013 The Miami Herald Distributed by MCT Information Services

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