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Clinton covers the issues in UB lecture

Hillary Clinton at Distinguished Speakers Series talk

Hillary Clinton discussed domestic and foreign policies, the state of public education and her relationship with President Barack Obama during her Distinguished Speakers Series lecture. Photo: Enid Bloch

By LAUREN NEWKIRK MAYNARD

Published October 24, 2013

“Children are the canaries in the coal mine. We have to be honest about how kids, who come to kindergarten already behind, will succeed.”
Hillary Rodham Clinton

Like she’s done for months now, Hillary Rodham Clinton kept everyone guessing at her Distinguished Speakers Series talk last night in Alumni Arena.

Is she really running for president in 2016? Would she say so—or hint at it—during her speech?

As the sold-out crowd of 6,700 waited, she delivered a mostly memorized—and mesmerizing—speech about why she believes that America is still a world power with a mission to lead, despite its many problems.

The former U.S. senator from New York and former secretary of state was introduced by Student Association Vice President Lyle Selsky and UB President Satish Tripathi. Tripathi thanked her for returning to Buffalo and noted her years spent supporting and visiting Buffalo. “The impact of her leadership has been profound and lasting,” he said. “She has left a legacy of support for higher education.”

“Hello, Buffalo!” Clinton said upon entering. The headliner for UB’s 27th annual lecture series and the Undergraduate Student Choice Speaker, Clinton said she visited Buffalo 52 times during her tenure as senator. Tripathi also noted that she was the most-well-traveled secretary of state in U.S. history, having visited 112 countries during her tenure.

Clinton mentioned how UB students are gaining the skills and exposure to diversity that will help them power the new knowledge-based economy. She also gave shout-outs to local legislators and citizens working to improve the city and region, citing projects including the waterfront revitalization and the $30 million she helped secure to move UB’s medical school downtown.

Clinton also discussed domestic and foreign policies, the state of public education and her relationship with President Barack Obama, stressing the need to combat the “idea-free zone” in Washington and its “slash-and-burn” partisan politics.

Part of what grounds her, she said, are her Midwestern roots. Her trips back to Western New York are always a pleasant return to old friends. “I’ve been watching Buffalo closely, even while traveling,” she said. Throughout her career she’s kept a snow globe with a buffalo inside it—a gift from a hotel housekeeper during one of her stops in town. “‘Don’t forget Buffalo,’” the woman told me, and I haven’t,” Clinton said.

Later on, a heckler piped up in the bleachers. Raising her voice slightly over his shouting, Clinton continued talking about how Buffalo was a “model for making connections. We have to be willing to come together.” She paused slightly and quipped, “And it involves sitting down and talking, not yelling.” The crowd came to its feet with a roar.

Clinton then moved from education statistics to personal anecdotes, recounting her experiences on the global stage as the 67th secretary of state. “I know the world watches carefully how we make decisions here in the U.S.,” she said.  

Among her stories:

  • Hong Kong businessmen anxiously asked her if faith in America’s economic and political power was in doubt after the economic recession. She replied, “Absolutely not.”
  • Ex-military generals leading Burma once told her that they were studying how a democracy works by watching “The West Wing.”
  • After sitting across many tables with men, often with only a female translator in the room, Clinton’s work to influence international leaders for better gender equality slowly paid off. At a later trip to Burma, the generals told her, “We have two women at this meeting!”
  • During the government shut down earlier this month, Obama was forced to stay in the U.S. instead of making a trip to Asia. Said Clinton pointedly, “It’s important that the president of the United States shows up. China and Russia showed up, and they cocked an eyebrow… if our president can’t represent this country, what will we be able to accomplish at home?”

The most common question Clinton said she received during her first trips abroad was how she got along with Obama after their contentious 2008 presidential fight. “I was surprised he asked me,” she admitted, remembering his invitation later to serve as secretary of state. “He called Bill while we were on a walk in a nature preserve.”

Clinton said she had to put herself in Obama’s place to see the global issues pressing on his administration and the economic challenges he faced at home. What if she had to ask him the same question? “I’d want him to say yes.”

What Clinton called a “peaceful transition” after the election became a friendship with Obama, and a shared love of country. “We’re problem-solvers,” she said of Americans, adding that democracy only comes from political compromise and continuity. Despite the “painful effects of economic stagnation” that led to higher unemployment and poverty in cities like Buffalo, “we can see reasons and evidence to be hopeful.”

She ended with a message to America to care for its children, especially in their first five years of life, and to work to close disparity gaps in education, poverty and health care for all Americans. “Children are the canaries in the coal mine,” she said. “We have to be honest about how kids, who come to kindergarten already behind, will succeed.”

After her speech, she sat down with Dennis Black, vice president for university life and services, who took questions from the live audience and from Twitter.

Questions ranged from Clinton’s thoughts on Chelsea and future grandchildren—“I’d be very happy being a grandmother, but there’s no pressure”—to her difficult decision in 2012 to allow Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng to seek asylum at the U.S. embassy in Beijing—“It could have been a diplomatic catastrophe, but on the other side of it was one man and his future trumped all the other issues.”

It came down to the very last question to address the elephant in the room. Black looked slyly at Clinton and asked: “Describe what an ideal candidate would look like.”

Without missing a beat, Clinton waited until the clapping died down and replied, “I’m not as interested in what a candidate looks like, but what they stand for.”

READER COMMENTS

What an inspiring talk that must have been. I wish I had been there. This is the kind of statesmanship this country needs. Or should I say stateswomanship.

 

In particular, I congratulate the undergraduates for selecting this speaker. This choice makes up, at least in part, for a previous class' invitation to Donald Trump.

 

Gerry Rising

Did no one question her record as secretary of state, specifically her support for jihadists and wahabists in the overthrow of Qaddafi, as well as open support for arming the same crowd in Syria, or her warmongering and bullying of China and Russia over their support of Assad?

 

Did no one question the "Asian Pivot" policy of encircling China with military bases?

 

Very disappointing. Why is she entitled to a free ride?

 

Joseph D'Urso