5:44am

Sun May 13, 2012
Opinion

Hillary Clinton: 'Incredible Rush' Will Have Its End

Originally published on Sun May 13, 2012 10:09 am

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gets questioned about her political future wherever she goes. She says she plans to get off the "high-wire" of politics after she wraps up her tenure as secretary of state, but her trips sometimes feel like she's campaigning — for America's image and for her own legacy. NPR's Michele Kelemen has this behind-the-scenes reporter's notebook of Clinton's most recent swing through Asia.

Clinton certainly has stamina. She's traveled more than 770,000 miles, meeting leaders of dozens of countries. But she really comes to life in those events that rarely make news.

She visited young Indian women last weekend in Kolkata, victims of sex trafficking who use dance as therapy. Clinton told them she was entranced by their performance.

In a nearby room, an older village woman held up a painted scroll for Clinton. She told the story of how men come to villages in West Bengal and ask not for dowries but for girls.

Clinton signed autographs for one girl who showed off her karate moves, and encouraged another activist to hand out plastic green campaign bracelets that say "Cool men don't buy sex." The secretary checked up on the press corps later to make sure we were all still wearing them.

She often talks about programs to help women and girls around the world. However, what people most often ask about are her personal ambitions and whether or not she still wants to be America's first woman president.

At a lively talk show, Indian TV host Barkha Dutt kept showing pictures of Clinton — drinking a beer with U.S. diplomats in Cartagena and working on her Blackberry on a trip into Libya that went viral. Dutt at one point said Clinton now has a "bionic woman image."

"Why have you been saying no to 2016?" the host asked. "You're going to be that woman who's going to break the final glass ceiling."

Clinton disagreed.

"I'm very flattered, but I feel like it's time for me to kind of step off the high-wire," Clinton said. "I've been involved at the highest levels of American politics for 20 years now."

Clinton is at ease not just in those public forums, but also when she comes to the back of the plane to chat with reporters or sits down over drinks to talk off-record.

On this trip, she didn't do that until nearly a week in — after a tense period in Beijing. In China, she kept her distance from us, while her staff dealt with the drama over the Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng.

"Was it tough on you or is this — are these trips just routine for you at this point?" I asked her.

"Well, I have the most amazing, dedicated staff. I hope they're not listening because I don't want it to go to their heads, but they literally work around the clock," she said.

She said she will miss this kind of thing.

"I'm going to miss a lot of it because it's an incredible rush to represent the United States of America — walk down that stair from the plane, get into those meetings, do the hard negotiating that we have to do on a lot of important issues," she said. "It's been the most extraordinary experience and privilege that I could ever imagine. But ... it's, in my view, time to move on."

Before she does, though, she has more trips in the works.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says she plans to get off the high wire of politics after she wraps up her tenure in the Obama administration. Yet, everywhere she goes she's questioned about her political future. As NPR's Michele Kelemen tells us in this reporter's notebook

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Hillary Clinton certainly has stamina. She's travelled more than 770,000 miles meeting leaders of dozens of countries. But she really comes to life in those events that rarely make news.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

KELEMEN: She told these young Indian women last weekend in Calcutta that she was entranced by their performance. They are victims of sex trafficking who use dance as therapy. In a nearby room, an older village woman holds up a painted scroll for Clinton.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing in foreign language)

KELEMEN: She's telling the story of how men come to villages in west Bengal and ask not for dowries but for girls.

SECRETARY HILLARY CLINTON: Thank you. Thank you for telling that story and doing it so beautifully.

KELEMEN: Clinton signs autographs for one girl, who showed off her karate moves, and encouraged another activist to hand out plastic green campaign bracelets that say, cool men don't buy sex.

The secretary checked up on the press corps later to make sure we were all still wearing them. She often talks about programs to help women and girls around the world. But what people most often ask about are her personal ambitions and whether or not she still wants to be America's first woman president.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

BARKHA DUTT: ...do well. 2016 may happen yet.

CLINTON: Oh, dear.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: She's going to get me in so much trouble.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: Not only in your country, but my country.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KELEMEN: At a lively talk show, Indian TV host Barkha Dutt kept showing pictures of Clinton - drinking a beer with U.S. diplomats in Cartagena and working on her blackberry on a trip into Libya, an image that became popular on Tumblr.

Dutt at one point said Clinton now has a bionic woman image.

DUTT: So, why have you been saying no to 2016?

CLINTON: Well, you know, I feel like...

DUTT: You're going to be that woman who's going to break the final glass ceiling.

CLINTON: I - really - I mean, no I'm...

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

CLINTON: I'm very flattered, but I feel like it's time for me to kind of step off the high wire. I've been involved at the highest levels of American politics for 20 years now and I...

KELEMEN: Secretary Clinton is at ease not just in those public forums, but also when she comes to the back of the plane to chat with reporters or sits down over drinks to talk off-record. On this trip, she didn't do that until nearly a week in, after a tense period in Beijing. In China, she kept her distance from us, while her staff dealt with the drama over the Chinese dissident, Chen Guangcheng.

This trip seemed pretty hard on your staff.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

CLINTON: Yes, I've noticed.

KELEMEN: Was it tough on you or is this - are these trips just routine for you at this point?

CLINTON: Well, I have the most amazing dedicated staff. I hope they're not listening because I don't want it to go to their heads. But, you know, they literally work around the clock.

KELEMEN: Are you going to miss this?

CLINTON: Sure. I'm going to miss a lot of it because it's an incredible rush to represent the United States of America, you know, walk down, you know, that stair from the plane, get into those meetings, do the hard negotiatings that we have to do on a lot of important issues. It's been the most extraordinary experience and privilege that I could ever imagine. But, you know, it's in my view, time to move on.

KELEMEN: Before she does, though, she has more trips in the works.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.