Clinton: Focus on Best Candidate, Not Race, Gender

Sen. Hillary Clinton

Sen. Hillary Clinton holds a news conference in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Sen. Hillary Clinton says she and fellow Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama "have tried to make this race about two individuals."

In a wide-ranging interview with NPR's Farai Chideya, Clinton shares why she thinks race has sometimes been a factor in the campaign, talks about running as a female candidate, and defends her ability to draw bipartisan support.

The following is a transcript of the interview:

Your two major competitors in this race have come to symbolize certain things. Sen. [John] Edwards paints himself as the candidate who is going to end poverty, and Sen. Obama says he's the candidate of change. What do you symbolize?

Well, I think the candidate with the experience we need to make the changes we want. I don't think there is an either-or here; that's a false choice. We have to look at each of us, and what we represent, and what we have done in our lives, and what we believe we can do as the next president.

I have a record of taking on tough issues, of fighting against the special interests, of standing up against the health insurance companies and the drug companies and the oil companies, and all the rest of it. But I've also produced positive change.

During your husband's term in office, you championed a comprehensive health care plan, and Republicans quickly shot it down. A lot of analysts said the problem wasn't the plan itself but that you didn't get bipartisan support. Now, when you were a first-term senator, you made a point of joining an all-Republican prayer group. Are you careful to be bipartisan because of what you learned from the health care debate?

Well, first of all, it is a bipartisan prayer group — it's very important for me to set the record straight on that, because it's something that is extremely important to a number of senators. It's a time when people can get behind closed doors and talk openly and pray together, and I have been there sometimes and it's a real blessing. But I think that it's important to recognize that in our system, bipartisanship is essential — particularly in the Senate — to get anything done. I think it's important, too, to recognize that's exactly what I've done over the last seven years and even before that, because I really believe that we have to look for solutions. These are not Democratic or Republican solutions. These are the kinds of American solutions that I think our people are really hungry for. And I have joined together with some unlikely allies. You know, here in South Carolina, I joined up with Sen. Lindsey Graham to provide access to health care for the National Guard and Reserve members, and now more than 9,000 members right here in South Carolina are eligible for something they didn't have before we put together a bipartisan piece of legislation and pushed it through over a threat of a veto from President Bush.

At various times throughout this campaign, you've been criticized for being too tough — or, in the case when you got choked up in New Hampshire, for being too sensitive. How do you navigate the different expectations that people have of a woman leader?

That is such a great question, Farai, because that's what I'm doing. And I'm doing it out here in public, kind of on a high wire, trying to strike the right balance. I can only be myself. You know, I am a serious person, and I think these are serious times and deserve serious leadership. But I'm also — I hate to admit it — a human being, with all of the feelings and experiences and real hopes and dreams for myself and my family and my country that I think every one of us have.

I have really been just doing the best I can in this very long and intense campaign to talk about what I want to do as president, because ultimately this election isn't about me; it's not about any of the candidates. It's about what we're going to do for your listeners, what we're going to do to help people. I'm going to Benedict College later this morning to talk about making college affordable. This is a huge problem around the country, and it's especially tough here in South Carolina. So I'm going to stay focused on what the job is and how I can do the job, but I do understand why people want to know more about me as a person. They may not know that 35 years ago, I went to work for a South Carolina native, Marian Wright Edelman, at the Children's Defense Fund and have been focused on improving the lives of our children ever since.

We actually spoke with actress Victoria Rowell. She has written a best-selling book about growing up in the foster care system. She's stumping for you.

Isn't she wonderful?

Absolutely. And she talked about your commitment, not just with Marian Wright Edelman, but with providing free legal services in child abuse cases when you were getting your law degree at Yale. Why is this kind of work important to you?

I think that it initially was important because my mother had such a very difficult life, and if she had been born at a later time, I believe that she probably would have been put into the foster care system, because her parents essentially abandoned her and her grandparents were very unwelcoming. Basically, she had to leave their home when she was 13 to go to work in someone else's home just to be able to have a safe place to live and to try to be able to make some way in her life. They let her take care of their children, but she had to get up and get the other children off to school, and they let her go to high school. So I really saw at a very early age that, despite my comfortable, secure upbringing in my family, that wasn't the case for so many children. It just became the cause of my passionate commitment here in public service to do what I can to give every child the chance to live up to his or her God-given potential.

We spoke to Sen. Obama yesterday, asked him if he thought the remarks by your husband — President Clinton — were really about race. And Sen. Obama said no, so why do you think so many people — including some of our listeners — saw race in those comments?

I don't know, but I obviously deeply regret that because that's not at all the case, and I think that both Sen. Obama and I have made that clear. We have tried to make this race about two individuals. It's wonderful and it's celebratory that one is African-American and one is a woman. That's a great tribute to the Democratic Party and to our country. But we know we're running as individuals. We want this race to be about us, and what we represent, what we plan for the future, our plans for the economy and for health care, and for college affordability, and all of the other issues that people talk to me about. So we have both said repeatedly that this is not about race, and it's not about gender. Obviously, we know we represent that in many people's minds. But at the end of the day, we want voters to choose who they believe will be the best president.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.