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Hillary Clinton on ‘Hard Choices’

July 1, 2014  • Jessica Puckett, Aspen Institute College Journalism Scholar

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke about her memoir “Hard Choices” at the Aspen Ideas Festival’s Afternoon of Conversation. Clinton discussed not only the difficult decisions detailed in her book, but also those America faces today.  “One of the reasons I called the book “Hard Choices” is we’ve got to, number one, start talking to each other again and, two, rebuild trust,” Clinton said. 

Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson asked Clinton about the situation in the Middle East, including her decisions concerning Syria and the rise of ISIS. “We’ve seen this movie before,” Clinton said of ISIS. “We saw this in the post-Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. … There’s been so many bad political decisions made by Malaki and his supporters, so when you say can we sit by and watch Iraq and Syria disintegrate, it’s too soon to tell.”

Clinton also shared her opinions on domestic issues such as income inequality, saying this is an issue that affects our democracy and many Americans are falling behind financially — or at best, running in place:

“So many Americans are really, really nervous. They feel like they’re falling behind—at best they’re running in place. So there is an economic issue, but it’s an economic issue that I agree affects our democracy.”

“We’ve got to do a better job of growing the economy again and renewing the American dream and that the political establishment is not stacked against them.”

As the Supreme Court decision regarding Hobby Lobby and the right of corporations to determine choices in health care coverage was delivered on the day of Clinton’s talk, she weighed in:

“It was the first time our Supreme court has said that a closely held corporation has the rights of a person when comes to religious freedom, and that a corporation can impose their religious beliefs on employees. Denying contraception is exactly that. I find it deeply disturbing we’re going in that direction.”

 “This is a really bad slippery slope.”

Clinton also discussed the US’s complex relationship with Russian President Vladamir Putin: 

“We thought we had business we needed to get done with Russia, and  that’s why I did the reset.”

“Medvedev was very interesting; he wanted to lead Russia in a different way (than Putin). He wanted to diversify the economy; he was particularly interested in the high-tech world. When he and the president would meet or I’d meet with him, he was very open to conversation. But we had a good dialogue going.”

 “When Putin said he’ll be president and Medvedev would be prime minister, I’m thinking, man, that’s good politics.”

“I criticized Putin as secretary of state for basically having an election filled with fraud, and then he attacked me saying I was responsible for causing the demonstrations. It began to be a much more difficult relationship.”

As a former Senator and a former cabinet member, Clinton is entirely familiar with Washington gridlock and its consequences:

“That’s why everyone who’s running for office today, and I hear them on the TV saying they will go to Washington and never compromise—they should be automatically disqualified.”

“Building relationships even with recalcitrant members of Congress is something there’s no rest from. I don’t think you can ever stop, and whoever the next president is will have to do that.”

The session ended with the question at the top of everyone’s mind: Will Clinton be running for president in 2016? “People ask me all the time, ‘Are you going to run?’ But it isn’t the right question,” Clinton said. Instead, we should be asking, What is your vision for America? What is your vision for the American dream, and why does America matter?

She also said no one should run for president unless he or she has a clear vision for America, otherwise the country will be stuck in the same stale politics.“For me, it’s trying to make the case to the American people that we matter to ourselves, and we matter to the world,” Clinton said. “And therefore we have to make some hard choices at home, particularly affecting our economy and our democracy.”