Hillary Clinton as president? Not a ‘hard choice’ for her fans in Kansas City


Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks with Rainy Day Books owner Vivien Jennings during her visit to Kansas City, Mo., to promote her book, “Hard Choices.” (Diana Reese for The Washington Post)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — If it were up to the 2,200 members of the audience here at former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton’s event to promote her new book, “Hard Choices,” Clinton would be the next president of the United States.

Even though she hasn’t yet said whether she’s running.

“She’s the right person,” said Amy Hoerath of Kansas City. “She has the experience, she lived it as first lady, she’s been secretary of state.”

“It’s about time,” said Kelly Wittenberg, a college professor who drove an hour from St. Joseph, Mo., for the event.

That was the message from the Missourians and Kansans I spoke with — never mind their Red State designations. It’s time, and Hillary Rodham Clinton is the right woman. That came through from college students, moms and grandmothers who all said they want to see a woman elected president in their lifetimes.

I saw three generations in some of the groups attending. Women did outnumber men, but about a third of the audience was male. Despite the population demographics in Kansas City, though, the audience was predominantly white.

Clinton never addressed a possible run for the presidency during the 90 minutes she spoke, frequently interrupted by applause and ending with a standing ovation, at the event, which had sold out the first day. Neither did she discuss the topics, like Benghazi, or the baggage she brings from husband Bill’s presidency, that could complicate her path to the White House.

Or her finances. Clinton’s wealth doesn’t seem to bother her fans. “Romney inherited his; Hillary and Bill worked,” explained Deb Gutierrez of Topeka, Kan. “They earned it the old-fashioned way.” That sentiment was echoed by others.

Not everyone there was a supporter. A dozen or so protesters carrying signs about Benghazi lined the sidewalk across the street from the historic downtown Kansas City theater where Clinton spoke.

Clinton focused her talk, moderated by Rainy Day Books owner Vivien Jennings, on her four years as secretary of state, beginning with the request from then President-elect Obama to serve. One friend had suggested he had called her to ask that she take the position of postmaster general, which earned one of several hearty laughs from the audience..

She admits she struggled with the decision, hence the book’s title, “Hard Choices,” but “I have this old-fashioned idea that when the president asks you to do something, you should probably say yes.”

That theme of service ran through Clinton’s remarks. Even stronger was the theme of equality for women, although she said “people’s eyes would roll” when she promoted women’s issues as part of her diplomacy. She considers violence against women a moral issue, but said that linking it to poor economic growth was more likely to get the attention of foreign leaders. “The GDP in Egypt would increase 34 percent” with the participation of women, she said.

She spoke highly of two female leaders: Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, praising Sirleaf’s efforts to promote peace while joking about the love of pantsuits she and Merkel share.

The subliminal message? Other countries are successfully led by women.

Diane Pomeroy from Topeka, Kan., agreed. “Lots of other countries have women leaders. Why are we so far behind?”

There’s no doubt Clinton has become a role model for young women. Abbey Tingle, a 20-year-old college student at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and the daughter of a friend of mine, called Clinton “a strong leader who’s taken a powerful stand” around the world for women’s equality. “I admire her confidence,” Tingle said.

But the most enthusiastic applause for Clinton came with her comments on the gridlock that’s plagued Washington. “What we can’t afford to do is undermine the democratic process by talking like compromise is a dirty word,” she said. “We should never allow anyone to run for public office who proudly proclaims he or she will never compromise.”

Jennings referred to Clinton as “Dorothy’s daughter and Chelsea’s mom” in a question about Clinton’s mother that helped show a softer side to the former first lady as she described the abuse and neglect experienced by her mother during her childhood.

Clinton “was just awesome,” Pomeroy said. “Her warmth comes through. She’s super intelligent, and she’s so charming…. I think she’s for sure going to run.”

Outside the theater before the event started, I talked with Erin Fishman, who’d brought her 5-year-old twin daughters, Cleo and Sabine, out for a walk. (They live just around the corner.) She had told them about the right to free speech when they saw the protesters.

I asked the twins if they knew why so many people were waiting to enter the theater.

“To see the first girl president,” Cleo answered.

 

Diana Reese is a journalist in Overland Park, Kan. Follow her on Twitter at @dianareese.
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