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Hillary Clinton in December Vogue

November 16, 2009

It hasn’t hit newsstands yet but you can check out the online preview here. The photos are great (Annie Leibovitz) and it’s also an interesting article from Jonathan Van Meter who traveled with the Secretary in Africa (and also in NY).

Here is an excerpt with some photos:

One of the refrains I kept hearing from reporters was Condi would never do this. Clinton, a woman from politics, knows how to work a crowd. Sometimes her motorcade would arrive and she would jump out and just plunge right in, getting out ahead of her security team, who often looked a little panicked. She danced her funky little dance at the dinners held in her honor (as seen on YouTube). In Cape Town, she threw a party for the press and drank with the best of us, talking for more than two hours, into the night, with surprising off-the-record candor about everything from her husband to her disdain for certain world leaders. She’s fun. She laughs at herself. And she is full of surprisingly sharp, pointy little retorts, barbs, and comebacks. On several occasions she drifted to the back of the plane, allowing zesty debates to flower, often asking, “What’s your take?” of different reporters, who hung on her every word. One of them told me his opinion of Hillary had completely turned around: “My parents hated her, and I thought she was a bitch who surrounded herself with horrible people. But she’s nice! She’s really frank and blunt and funny. One time she said to me, ‘We need China.’ Condi would never do that. I like her.” Condoleezza Rice, I was told, almost never even came out of her cabin.

Photo by Annie Leibovitz

At one point I tell Clinton about the Condi-would-never-do-this mantra. “I don’t know,” she says with a look of distaste at the whole concept. “I think it’s important in these jobs to be yourself. I believe very much in people-to-people diplomacy, getting beyond the leaders. I went to Uzbekistan about twelve years ago, and the then-ruler, Islam Karimov, who is still the ruler, was fascinated by my husband. He kept saying, ‘Well, I see him on TV, he’s always making speeches, he’s always shaking hands. What’s he doing?’ I said, ‘Well, that’s a democracy, President Karimov. He works for the people, so you go out and see the people.’ A lot of the people in some of the countries we’ve been in, they’re not unabashed fans of the U.S., but you’ve got to reach out. You pick up all kinds of senses and feelings from doing that.”

Does being a Clinton help?

“It helps enormously. Around the world, people will say, ‘I remember when your husband came’ or ‘We haven’t really made any progress since your husband was here.’ There’s just a lot of very positive feedback. It’s a great door opener. And I have political experience that enables me to look at a leader and say, ‘I understand your political problems. I’ve been in politics. I’ve had to run for election.’ So when a leader tells me that he can’t do something because a certain group wouldn’t like it, I say, ‘But that’s what politics is about.’ Look at what President Obama did. He organized from the grass roots; he created a political organization. That’s what you have to do.”

This was Clinton’s message all over Africa: Stop complaining and get organized. It was a tough-love message delivered most forcefully (and successfully) in Kenya, in private with the leaders of the country; and she delivered it at the University of Nairobi, where the crowds outside were perhaps the biggest of the entire trip and where the students inside received the message with enthusiasm. In that auditorium, I was struck by Clinton’s tone. It sounded like a speech that only a mother could give. Clinton has this innate ability to be almost but not quite hectoring, the sort of “Come on, get your act together, let’s go!” that mothers deliver to children so effectively. Perhaps some countries are prepared to hear certain things only from a woman?

Photo by Annie Leibovitz

“It’s a really interesting question,” says Clinton. “In our country, having had Secretary Albright and Secretary Rice and now my filling this position, it’s no big deal, having a woman do the job. But in much of the rest of the world there is a strong message. You can go to some countries and there’s not a woman in the room. They don’t even make the effort to give me the token woman minister. None. But whether it’s true or fair, when women get elected to office, they believe they are imposing a different mind-set on the political and business climate of their countries. There’s a lot of evidence that women are more focused on the future, more willing to see investments actually deliver results. And in lots of African countries the honorific for women is ‘Mama.’ So I had lots of people say to me, ‘Mama, what about this; Mama, what about that?’ “

There is a corollary to this aspect of Clinton that I noticed in Africa: She mothers the people around her. Janine Zacharia, a reporter for Bloomberg News, had burned herself while cooking a couple of days before the trip. As soon as Clinton saw her bandaged hand she made a fuss, asked her what happened, and wanted to know if she had everything she needed to take care of it. Another time, we were in Goma, in eastern Congo, at an outdoor press conference, and I was getting scorched under the hot sun. While Clinton was speaking, I tried to stealthily move under a tree for shade. When she was finished, she stepped off the stage and walked up to me. “Where’s your hat?” she said, sounding just like my mother. “I forgot it,” I said sheepishly. “Well, we’ll get you one. Someone get Jonathan a hat!” On another occasion, I had foolishly eaten a salad in Liberia, and Clinton heard I was in my hotel room, very ill. The phone rang: “The secretary would like us to bring you some Cipro.” A few minutes later her physician appeared at my door with drugs. She handed me the Cipro and another pill given to chemo patients so that they can stop vomiting long enough to take more drugs. “This stuff is very expensive,” she said in her Texas drawl, “but we made sure to always travel with it ever since Bush, the father, puked all over the prime minister in Japan. I said, ‘Not on my watch.’ ” After the doctor left, an aide appeared. “The secretary asked me to bring you this.” It was a Sprite and a few slices of white bread.

There were so many strange and sublime moments on this trip: a woman farmer in a cornfield outside Nairobi squealing with delight when she met Clinton, “I am one of the women you speak about all the time! You are meeting me! And I have met Hillary Clinton!” A handshake from Sheikh Sharif, the president of Somalia, that clearly moved Clinton. “He was very touching,” she says. “He had immense dignity, coming to me publicly, a representative of both the United States and a woman.” A moment in Pretoria when a reporter asked the South African minister of foreign affairs, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane (who oddly enough looked a bit like Clinton in her robust bearing and bright colors), what has changed about South Africa’s relations with the United States and she shot back with an edge in her voice, “The zeal and passion that Hillary Clinton brings to the relationship is what has changed!” Clinton speaking to a group of African businessmen: “Because people are poor doesn’t mean that they don’t have any money.”

The most extraordinary day of the entire trip was a testament to this very idea, what Clinton calls “smart power,” and it is something she is very passionate about: that the micro-economies of the poor are deeply important, and when the so-called soft issues—violence against women, food safety and agriculture, sustainable development—are not tended to, the result is chaos, instability, conflict, and war. The Victoria Mxenge housing development, a project outside Cape Town started by a few homeless women who were living on the side of the road with their children, has grown through microloans into a sprawling 50,000-home development. Clinton had visited as First Lady in 1997 and then brought President Clinton back a year later. When her motorcade arrived there on a glorious Saturday afternoon, she was met by a ragtag brass band that had a New Orleans vibe, women ululating at the top of their lungs, choral singers, and dancers, and it all added up to an explosion of joy—a happy chaos. Hundreds of people behind barricades screamed and pushed and reached out to touch Clinton as she ran along the line; some of the women were in tears. One of them yelled, “It is so nice to see you again!” Clinton was ebullient. Caroline Adler, a young State Department staffer, said, “She gets crowds wherever she goes. But this? This is unique. This feels like euphoria.”

Two days later, the euphoria turned to hostility. Kinshasa was the only place in Africa where Clinton’s charm and star power were useless—where the very fact of her being a Clinton worked against her. For more than a decade, the country has been devastated by war; 5.4 million people have died, the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II. There is a lot of distrust of America among the Congolese people and bitter feelings about some of the Clinton administration’s policies. So when Clinton appeared at a town-hall meeting with the former NBA star Dikembe Mutombo and launched into her tough-mother-love shtick, it seemed tone-deaf. When the students were given a chance to speak, their questions were uniformly angry and filled with suspicion. One of Clinton’s advisers told me that Clinton often mirrors whomever she is addressing, and here was Exhibit A. Onstage in a hot, fetid room, she became testy. Just before the famous “meltdown” seen round the world, she said to one student, very sharply, “I’m only here to make a very simple point: We can either think about the past and be imprisoned by it, or we can decide we’re going to have a better future and work to make it. That is the choice. We’re not going to work with people who are looking backward, because that’s not going to get us where we want to go.”


8 Comments leave one →
  1. still4hill permalink
    November 16, 2009 9:44 pm

    Awesome! It’s about time that Africa trip and what she did there got some good media attention. This article also shows that sending someone other than the usual suspects out to cover a story about her, someone without prejudices, makes a big difference in how she is covered. When we hear the same old songs, often it’s because they are being sung by the same Johnny-one-notes. Jonathan Van Meter is refreshing because this is all new to him, and he is seeing it through clear eyes. I can’t WAIT to get my copy!

  2. alinosof permalink
    November 16, 2009 10:43 pm

    The blather on the Internet and TV shows following her nomination last year was so misleading! It’s now clear that the pundits did not have a clue of what was going on. I was surprised to read that when Obama offered Clinton the SoS position, her advisers were divided into two camps. The male advisers (Philippe Reines and Andrew Shapiro) urged her to accept the position while the female advisers (Maggie Williams, Chery Mills and Capricia Marshall) were against it and until the last minute her decision could have gone either way. Just wow!

  3. rachel permalink
    November 16, 2009 11:16 pm

    Got more insight as to why she had her guard up in the Congo. I find it refreshing that Secretary Clinton sometimes steps outside the box even if it sometimes puts a little heat on her. I can totally see the mothering thing too. I cant believe anyone can keep a schedule so hetic

  4. RE: permalink
    November 17, 2009 1:24 am

    All I can say is WOW!!! How refreshing it is to read (like Still4Hill said) a story without prejudices. She just keeps inspiring me with every story I read about her. She’s just such an amazing person.

  5. pcfs1 permalink
    November 17, 2009 6:34 am

    Wonderful read. She is such an inspiration. I just love her. She tells it like it is and that is refreshing.

  6. Carolyn (Rodham) permalink
    November 17, 2009 7:19 pm

    What a refreshing change from the usual drivel. I also just watched a tape of Hillary’s interview with George Stephanopoulos — she was utterly charming and handled his question about Palin’s remarks so deftly!

    By contrast, did you see Joe Klein’s piece on HRC in Time a few weeks back? Besides opining that she needs a course in “Middle East Haggling 101” (which struck me as insulting to all involved), he had the following blinding insight to offer:

    “We were sitting in her hotel suite the day after her Jerusalem gaffe, the Secretary in
    an electric-blue shift rather than her usual formal jacket and pants. She was wearing
    glasses and appeared rather freckly without her makeup. …”


  7. RE: permalink
    November 18, 2009 1:55 am

    Hi Carolyn…I didn’t see the Time piece and would very much like to. I couldn’t find it at Time’s website under ‘In The Arena by Joe Klein’. Could you link us up, if you are able?

    I met Hillary while working a very small event back in ’07. I did notice that she covers up her freckles with makeup, but even with the foundation and powder, her skin is so radiant! She looks better with age…lucky her. 😉

  8. June 25, 2013 3:18 pm

    I love hilliary

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