LITTLE ROCK – On Monday, Bill Clinton moderated a discussion about empowering the world’s women.
But the event was also clearly focused on the Clintons themselves. “Friend of Bill” Jerry Jones, senior vice president of Little Rock-based Acxiom, quoted Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the group, reminding them of her words in Beijing to the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. “Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.”
Jones also lamented to the group that the United States, unlike many nations in the world, still hasn’t had a female president. (A possible hint about 2016?)
Hillary Clinton, who is recovering from stomach flu and a fainting spell that gave her a concussion, addressed the group via video before her husband entered the room. In the message, taped prior to her illness, Hillary Clinton praised the city of Little Rock, which this year renamed an airport in her and her husband’s honor, in her brief remarks.
She also said the topic of women was “near and dear to her heart,” especially “how to harness the power of women around the world.”
But this wasn’t Hillary’s show. It was Bill’s.
After all, earlier in the day, the news broke that Clinton would be working with Martin Scorsese on a documentary about his life for HBO. According to an HBO statement, the documentary will explore Clinton’s “perspectives on history, politics, culture and the world.”
On those topics, he has many, and he gave the audience a dose of them at Monday’s Club de Madrid meeting.
He talked about Malala Yousufzai, the 14-year-old girl in Pakistan who was shot because she wanted to attend school. He mentioned a 17-year-old girl in Afghanistan who wanted to attend medical school but was forced into marriage by her parents. She attempted suicide and broke her back.
The horrors women and girls face around the world gripped the audience for more than an hour: Did you know that half the graduates in Saudi Arabia are women? But they can’t work because most women aren’t allowed to do so in that country. They also can’t drive cars so they couldn’t get to a job, either.
Professorial with glasses low upon his nose, Clinton moderated a discussion between Joachim Chissano, former president of Mozambique; Felipe Gonzalez, former prime minister of Spain; Roza Otunbayeva, former president of Kyrgyzstan; and Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland.
It was the first time that the Club de Madrid held its annual conference in Little Rock, the place Clinton called home before winning the White House. Club de Madrid, an independent nonprofit created to promote democracy and change in the international community, is the world’s largest group of former heads of state and government.
He listened intently as Chissano talked about a change in gender roles in Mozambique once women picked up guns and fought beside their countrymen. Clinton’s love for Ireland was also apparent as he addressed Robinson. The rumor here is that Clinton may want the U.S. ambassadorship to Ireland. (Then again, his admirers here also say he may want the U.N. ambassador spot, though no former U.S. president has ever held the post.)During a visit to Ireland in November, he said, “I could run for president of Ireland.” That is, if only he owned a home there.
Suzi Parker is an Arkansas-based political and cultural journalist and author of “Sex in the South: Unbuckling the Bible Belt.” Follow her on Twitter at @SuziParker.