12 Quotes from Hillary Clinton Show Her Remarkable Defiance
Hillary Clinton's partisan critics like to accuse her of being "inauthentic" or "overly scripted." Many of her Democratic supporters worry she is need of a "humanizing moment."
But a look back at Clinton's nearly quarter-century in the public eye reveals a first lady, senator, secretary of state and presidential candidate with an impressive record of public candor. In fact, it is — as the New Republic argued earlier this month — many of the same comments that made her such an appealing target that make clear how remarkably raw and compelling she can be, on the stump or traveling the world as an advocate for the rights of women and girls.
Here are 12 of Hillary Clinton's most memorably defiant public statements, from her days campaigning for Bill, through her days as America's top diplomat:
1. "I challenge assumptions about women."
When Clinton was asked in an interview with Vogue in December 2009 why she is such an inspiring figure to so many young women, Clinton said, "Whether I am meant to or not, I challenge assumptions about women. I do make some people uncomfortable, which I'm well aware of, but that's just part of coming to grips with what I believe is still one of the most important pieces of unfinished business in human history — empowering women to be able to stand up for themselves."
2. "I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession."
During the 1992 presidential campaign, Clinton took a lot of heat for defending her decision to keep working during her husband's time as governor of Arkansas. At the time, some took her comment as a slight against stay-at-home moms, but over the decades the perception has changed: It was an issue of choice, and in Clinton's case that meant keeping her job at a Little Rock law firm.
"You know, I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life," Clinton said in an interview that aired March 26, 1992, on ABC's Nightline.
3. "You know, I'm not sitting here — some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette."
Even earlier in that first 1992 campaign, with rumors of Bill's infidelity beginning to hurt his poll numbers, the Clintons sat down for an interview with 60 Minutes.
"I think most Americans would agree that it's very admirable that you've stayed together, that you've worked your problems out and that you've seemed to reach some sort of understanding and arrangement," reporter Steve Kroft said to the couple.
The Clintons rejected the comment. Eventually Hillary dropped the gauntlet:
"You know, I'm not sitting here – some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette," he said. "I'm sitting here because I love him, and I respect him, and I honor what he's been through and what we've been through together. And you know, if that's not enough for people, then heck, don't vote for him."
4. "Human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights."
Clinton's defining moment during her time as first lady took place at a podium halfway around the world, during her remarks to the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 in Beijing:
"If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference," she said, "let it be that human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights once and for all. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely — and the right to be heard."
5. "To LGBT men and women worldwide ... please know that you are not alone."
By then a veteran secretary of state, Clinton made this declaration on 2011's International Human Rights Day. The threads of her speech in China, 15 years earlier, ran through the fabric of her message to the global community of gay men and women.
"And finally, to LGBT men and women worldwide, let me say this: Wherever you live and whatever the circumstances of your life, whether you are connected to a network of support or feel isolated and vulnerable, please know that you are not alone," she said.
6. "Take criticism seriously but not personally."
In her 2003 memoir, Living History, Clinton delivered this piece of advice on how to take your hits, especially as woman in public life, and keep your perspective — it's a theme she returns to often in speeches to women's groups. Like so many politicians, living up to this ideal is a constant struggle.
"I adopted my own mantra," Clinton writes. "Take criticism seriously but not personally. If there is truth or merit in the criticism, try to learn from it. Otherwise, let it roll right off you."
7. "Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it."
This is the most enduring line from her 2008 concession speech. After nearly a year and a half of political battle with future President Barack Obama, Clinton made an impressively graceful exit from the ring. Eight years later, "next time" is here:
"Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time," she told supporters in Washington D.C., "thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it, and the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time."
8. "We are, all of us, exploring a world that none of us even understands and attempting to create within that uncertainty."
Months before she would meet a guy named Bill Clinton at Yale Law School, Hillary Rodham was selected to deliver a speech at her class commencement ceremonies at Wellesley College. Rodham followed Sen. Edward Brooke, a Massachusetts Republican and first black man elected to the upper chamber.
"We are, all of us, exploring a world that none of us even understands and attempting to create within that uncertainty," Rodham told her fellow grads. "But there are some things we feel, feelings that our prevailing, acquisitive, and competitive corporate life, including tragically the universities, is not the way of life for us. We're searching for more immediate, ecstatic, and penetrating modes of living. And so our questions, our questions about our institutions, about our colleges, about our churches, about our government continue."
9. "If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle."
Cheeky as ever, even as what seemed like a serious 1996 re-election challenge for Bill (in the end, he defeated challenger Bob Dole by a considerable margin) was mounting, Hillary unveiled her famously caustic side and noted how easily she could distract the media:
"If I want to knock a story off the front page," Newsweek reported her saying in 1995, "I just change my hairstyle."
10. "We need a new politics of meaning ... we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
Speaking at the University of Texas on April 1993, Clinton delivered her argument for health care reform. That effort would fail miserably, but less than two decades later, she would watch from the State Department as the Obama administration pushed its Affordable Care Act through Congress.
The rationale never really changed:
"We need a new politics of meaning," Clinton said that day. "We need a new definition of civil society which answers the unanswerable questions, as to how we can have a society that fills us up again and makes us feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves."
11. "The search for meaning should cut across all kinds of religious and ideological boundaries."
In a May 6, 1993, interview with the Washington Post, Clinton made the argument that it is unwise and unfair to question the motives of the religious right, but that its political arm does not leave room for other people of good faith:
"The search for meaning should cut across all kinds of religious and ideological boundaries," Clinton said. "That's what we should be struggling with — not whether you have a corner on God."
12. "Being gay is not a Western invention — it is a human reality."
While Clinton only recently declared her unqualified support for same-sex marriage, she has long been a supporter of the LGBT community. In her December 2011 speech to the U.N. on International Human Rights Day, she responded to anti-gay propaganda oozing out of Vladimir Putin's government in Russia and a number of African nations.
"Being gay is not a Western invention; it is a human reality. And protecting the human rights of all people, gay or straight, is not something that only Western governments do," she said, beginning a laundry of list of young nations dedicated to serving all their citizens.