The Debrief: An Evening With Hillary Rodham Clinton


Walking into Spark Arena last night, Issy and I were fully prepared to find a sea of women – and women alone.

So it was both surprising and heart-affirming to be met by not only women of all ages but thousands of men. In a crowd of 3000 Kiwis, I saw CEO’s and politicians, fathers and daughters, I saw girlfriends, husbands, Maori and Asians, the disabled and the elderly. No minority or majority was missing.

I knew why I was there, but I wondered about the rest of the crowd. What, specifically, did they want to know about this person? Because it’s easy to feel like “we know” Hillary Rodham Clinton. After all, she’s been in the public eye – as a public servant – for over four decades. We’ve seen photos of her in a powder pink power suit addressing the United Nations in 1995 about women’s rights. Fast forward two decades and we’re reminded of that infamous photo of Hillary in the White House Situation Room with the US’s top military and civilian leaders including Barack Obama and Joe Biden, watching the assassination of Osama bin Laden unfold. We’ve seen hundreds of images of Hillary on the streets of New York, immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attack, fulfilling her role as both Secretary of State and a grieving citizen.

But we don’t actually know her. And we didn’t actually know what happened in 2016. So last night was essentially a ringside seat to a time in American history that I had assumed Hillary Rodham Clinton wanted to forget.

HRC and our very own Dame Jenny Shipley sat down for a candid conversation about her personal experiences, global perspective, and how her commitment to human rights, democracy and civil society has only grown stronger since her painful loss two years ago.

She confessed that a lot of people told her to stay quiet about what happened, to not write the book, to not admit her failings. But to do that would have been wrong. This is a woman who is acutely aware of the mistakes she made that cost her an election, but is even more aware of the conscious and unconscious biases that impacted her, and continue to impact millions of women fighting for leadership positions all over the world.

Hillary said she wrote the book, What Happened?, because she needed to figure it out for herself. She admits that writing the book was painful and confronting, but like all exercises in self-reflection it was also cathartic.

Last night she expressed her concern for the current electoral system in the United States – an issue she has been drawing attention to since 2000 when a devastated Al Gore loss the election to George W. Bush despite winning the popular vote.  She expressed her concern about Russian interference not only in her election but in elections all over the world. She called out Vladimir Putin specifically and hinted that what we know now is only the tip of the iceberg. She expressed a genuine concern for the role of social media and the power it has to sabotage the right to free speech and free press, explaining that it’s not the people behind accounts on Instagram and Facebook that interfered with public opinion in 2016, it was computer trolls and bots that were programmed to attacked candidates and work as an army to plant falsehoods in the minds of people. That statement blew my mind.

When asked if she had any regrets from her campaign, Hillary was quick to say she has many. As time passes she notices more and more things she should have done differently. One of her biggest regrets came in the second debate of the election when Trump spent the majority of a two-hour televised discussion stalking Hillary around the stage. Making faces, shadowing her every move, breathing down her neck. And one of her biggest regrets is not turing around and simply saying, back off you creep. Those were her words last night. Yes, Hillary admits that would have been a risk to take, the headlines the following day could have said Clinton is cracking under pressure, but it would have been a small price to pay to acknowledge the insidious behaviour that was taking place.

Towards the end of the night, Dame Jenny Shipley brought up the future; what’s next for American politics and for Hillary personally, and HRC’s response capped off the night perfectly.

She brought the attention back to her role as a grandmother to two young children, Aidan and Charlotte, and spoke of the kind of future she wants for them. She said there is no use in focusing on your own children or grandchildren and disregarding the children of others, because eventually those young boys and girls go out into a world in which we have no control over the way other people will influence their lives. It is for that reason alone that HRC is committed to raising children that are altruistic to their core.

She said losing the election in 2016 no longer feels personal. Enough time has passed and she is no longer a candidate who lost, but an active citizen. She said she has never felt more like an activist than she does right now. She said we must continue to remind each other of the stakes. What do we risk losing by not speaking up? What do we risk losing by turning a blind eye to our frustrations? She said if you are an active citizen then you are an activist.

And at 70 year’s old, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the activist, is just getting started.