By Perry Bacon Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 21, 2007
NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J., April 20 -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) decried what she called a "culture of degradation" in a speech at Rutgers University on Friday, tying radio host Don Imus's controversial remarks about the university's women's basketball team to a larger struggle for equality for both women and racial minorities, two groups she is aggressively courting as she seeks the Democratic presidential nomination.
Clinton praised the Rutgers team for its "bravado" after comments Imus made two weeks ago, in which he called the players "nappy-headed hos." Imus was fired last week by CBS Radio, which aired his show, and NBC, which simulcast it on MSNBC, but Clinton said that the networks' actions should not end the episode and that people around the country should uphold the "Rutgers pledge," a commitment to speak out about comments like those Imus made.
"Will you be willing to speak up and say 'enough is enough' when women or minorities or the powerless are marginalized or degraded?" Clinton asked. "Will you say there is no place for disrespectful language or bigotry to be seen as funny or clever?"
Clinton has focused much of her campaign on women and African Americans, two huge blocs of Democratic primary voters, but her language and the setting were perhaps the most pronounced appeal to the groups in her three months as a candidate. Before her speech, Clinton met for 30 minutes in private with university officials and C. Vivian Stringer, the coach of the team, which finished as the runner-up in the NCAA tournament earlier this month.
Nearly every presidential contender condemned Imus's remarks last week, but Clinton chose to speak at Rutgers, her latest move to highlight the Imus debacle, though she never mentioned Imus by name. She pointed out last week that she had never appeared on his show, whereas many other 2008 contenders have, and her campaign sent out an e-mail alert to Clinton's supporters encouraging them to write letters to the Rutgers team. University officials said Clinton had been invited to Rutgers in February but only announced she was coming after the Imus flap.
"We, of course, must protect our right to freedom of expression," Clinton said to an audience made up mostly of women. "It should not be used as a license or an excuse to demean and humiliate our fellow citizens. Marginalization like that happens all too often. It happens every day, in ways large and small, in places private and public. We've all seen it and we've all heard it. When women and girls are objectified and devalued in popular culture, when a young black man can't get a cab at night, when a Muslim American is the victim of a hate crime in the aftermath of 9/11."
Clinton also cast her experiences in a more personal way than she often does, mentioning that she once won a mixed doubles tennis tournament and was given a trophy that depicted the man as about three times the size of the woman.
She called for young women in the crowd to take on a personal role in pushing for advancement in women's rights, although she drew some unintended laughter when she suggested the women should go to the Web site "Myface," although she quickly stopped and poked fun at herself for conflating MySpace and Facebook, two popular social-networking sites.
The speech was only the latest in her campaign's effort to mobilize women, who make up about 60 percent of Democrats. Her two major Democratic rivals have their own efforts underway.
Earlier this week, Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) announced a "Women for Obama" initiative that will include special events in May. A section of his Web site is devoted to testimonials from women about "Why I Support Barack."
After the Supreme Court's decision this week upholding a ban on a controversial type of abortion, the campaign of former senator John Edwards (N.C.) sent an e-mail to supporters from Kate Michelman, a women's rights activist and former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America who is backing Edwards.