Hillary Clinton made a book-tour stop (her only one in California) at U.C. Davis last week when she addressed a packed house in the Jackson Hall of the Mondavi Center. She may have chosen that particular site because her husband had been so warmly received there when he spoke from the same stage several years ago. Or she may have just liked the politics of most of the residents in the academic environment that U.C. Davis provides. In any event, she was very warmly received by the approximately 1,500 in attendance.
In fact, she was protested by just one individual, a male who hid his face with a mask. He stood at the entrance to the building and explained to those who asked that he opposed Clinton because, he claimed, as secretary of State, Clinton bribed foreign governments into supporting the Clinton Foundation. (Those charges, which were used, ironically, by the Trump campaign, have never been substantiated.) When I asked the protester what the Clinton Foundation did that was wrong (or evil or misguided), he would not answer. (The stated purpose of the Clinton Foundation is to improve the lives of people around the world. It has specifically been working to alleviate the prescription drug and opioid epidemic.)
But no such protest (or anti-Clinton sentiment) was evident in the hall, and Ms. Clinton seemed to know that she was among friends throughout her address and the Q and A that followed. She started by acknowledging, like a seasoned politician, the reception she was receiving. (Over the years, I’ve gained an appreciation for how easily people who put themselves in the public eye are able to do things like work a room, deliver a stump speech, or just appear genuinely thankful for a favorable reception; Clinton, whatever her faults as a campaigner otherwise, is very good at that last skill.)
She then expressed moral support and empathy for those suffering from the wildfires that were raging in northern California. And then she got to her prepared remarks, which she delivered without notes or a teleprompter from the middle of the Mondavi stage. She had three main points, and she addressed a number of topics in explaining her position on each of the three.
Her first point was the need for activism, currently and in the years to come. Without engaging in ad hominem attacks on Donald Trump (or even mentioning him by name other than a few times), she expressed her concern about the lack of competence in his presidency and criticized some of the policies he was pushing. In this part of her speech, Clinton could have been making the same points that the protester outside the hall was railing about: the influence of money in politics, the power of big business and special interests in areas like climate change and gun control, and the efforts to ignore racism and sexism in corporate boardrooms and in government actions.
I was struck with the thought that this section of her speech might have won some of the support she had needed in the election from former supporters of Bernie Sanders. (Post-election analyses indicate that those voters turned to the Green Party, or sat out the election, or, in some instances, even voted for Trump, in large enough numbers to deny her victory in the Electoral College.)
Her second point concerned the current efforts to promote “alternative facts” and the threat that is posed to the democracy by those efforts. Here, she focused especially on the efforts of Russia to influence our elections, arguing that the Putin government had succeeded in at least some measure and that it would continue the same kinds of efforts in future elections if it were not stopped. She also addressed the attempts by Trump to create his own version of events, drawing a laugh from her audience when she recalled the way he claimed his inaugural crowd had been the largest in U.S. history. But, she pointed out, the humor in that ridiculous claim should not lead to acceptance of other “alternative facts” pushed by Trump’s administration. She called on the legitimate press to be as aggressive in ferreting out misstatements and lies from the current administration as it had been in covering the claims about her e-mail account when she was secretary of State.
Ms. Clinton’s final point was the need she perceives to get more women into politics. While this point could have turned into bitter resentment of the sexism that may have played a significant role in her loss last fall, she instead focused on the way men have controlled the efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare. (The select Senate committee that sought to craft legislation earlier this year consisted of 13 male senators and zero females.) She emphasized that national politics, especially on the Republican side, is still, essentially, a white male club. Gender diversity, she argued, has been an unrealized goal for far too long, and the welfare of the nation has suffered as a result.
Ms. Clinton spoke for about 40 minutes and then answered questions that were asked by a U.C. Davis professor for another 30 or so. Among the topics she covered in the Q and A were her feelings about the election loss (she definitely placed major responsibility for the defeat on the “weird” actions of then FBI Director James Comey, both in his mid-summer statement that she had been “extremely careless,” even as he acknowledged that she had not committed any crimes, and then less than two weeks before the election when he cast a cloud over her candidacy by revealing that his office was looking at her e-mails again, in connection with an unrelated investigation); and how she felt during the second debate when Trump appeared to be “stalking” her (she was conflicted about how to respond, not wanting to seem overly hostile or “catty” and ultimately decided to try to ignore it and him).
She concluded by re-emphasizing the need for activism and by stressing that America’s democracy can only be defeated by apathy in the face of tyranny. I left the hall hoping that the country isn’t already on that path and thinking that the loser in last fall’s election was a true patriot and a committed public servant.