September 24, 1997
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY
TO CREATORS SYNDICATE
MRS. CLINTON: Thank you very much, although you did blow my cover of at least pretending that I know how to use a computer. Because my daughter intends for us to communicate by e-mail, and I did promise her that I would actually do that. But I can't make any promises about the column because I'm usually finishing that late at night. In fact, what Rick didn't tell you, being the diplomat he is, is that the column he just held up came in several hours after deadline. (Laughter.)
But one of the great benefits of working with Rick and his staff is that they are very understanding of both my time and my schedule pressures. And so when he invited me to speak about my weekly column to this audience of fellow journalists, being a good employee, I agreed to do that. And I've been thinking a lot about future column ideas that might be exciting or at least somewhat interesting to people. I've come up with why a western White House in Palo Alto is in America's interest. (Laughter.) How you can tell -- a woman in public life by her hair style. (Laughter.)
I've -- my husband one day that I was going to do a column on golf scorekeeping for Presidents I've known. (Laughter.) He talked me out of that one. And then I also have been thinking about guest columnists. I persuaded my husband, actually, to write a column about Mothers Day. And he did and I thought it was wonderful. So now I've asked with our cat, Socks. I figured if dogs in the White House have had their voices heard, then cats deserve equal time. (Laughter.)
But I don't know if I'll ever write this column, because the only interesting topic that Socks could come up with is "My White House Prison," and that is not very inviting -- (laughter) -- to me.
I also have a suggested guest column by -- Eleanor Roosevelt, by Eleanor Roosevelt. (Laughter and applause.)
So we have a really exciting year ahead as I'm trying to think through what I'm going to be writing about to kill my empty nest symptoms, because those of you who have sent children off to school -- and -- was talking about sending their daughter, who, like my daughter, decided she had to go to school on the opposite coast, 3,000 miles away, so their daughter is in New York and my daughter is in California. It leaves you a lot of time on your hands. You have to sit up worrying about where they are and what time they're getting in. Not that they ask you to, but it comes with the job description.
Even though many of you who have teenagers or can remember raising them know that you don't see much of them at a certain age, Bill and I huddle around the White House endlessly, hour after hour, just for a sighting. (Laughter.) And now we don't have to worry about that. So I've got much more time on my hands.
And so I'm going to turn a lot of my energy that is now left over to writing the column every week and coming up with new and exciting things to day -- and trying to get it in before deadline.
I also learned about writing columns and about AP style, which Rick and his staff have broken me into. I've learned about the word, "spike." (Laughter.) Not that I'm happy about having learned that word. And my math has gotten better, because I've had to calculate time in Los Angeles from places like -- and Mongolia, for example, or Aleutia and Tanzania. And then I've had to file from Air Force One on occasion.
I've also been compelled to look at the world differently because in telling any story of what I do during the week, or any issue that I'm concerned about, I have to be much more careful about how I describe what I do, and I'm always being asked by Rick and his staff for details, details, what about this, what about that. The very first column that I wrote, I wrote about driving a car. And it was when I was home in Little Rock for an occasion and I persuaded my Secret Service agent -- but don't tell anybody this -- to let me drive.
And I was so excited about just being able to get behind the wheel again. It's the little things that you miss -- driving a big car, actually going up and down the aisle of a supermarket. So I wrote this column and I sent it in. And they come back and they say to me, well, what kind of car was it? I have no idea. (Laughter.) It was the experience that I was writing about. (Laughter.) -- they asked me many questions about what kind of car it was. So I try to get more specific and understand the importance of description and narrative.
I outlined in that first column what I hoped to achieve and why I was doing this column. I must say that Eleanor Roosevelt's experience both encouraged me and also was daunting. She wrote a column every single day, for years and years. She would retire at the end of her very long day, and it was almost a diary column. -- would be interested, they're fascinating glimpses into her life and into the times.
And I had read these columns years before, and then when I was going to the White House, in an effort to try to educate myself about all this to come, although either I went to the wrong school or I didn't learn the lessons very well. (Laughter.) I was studying about what former women in my position had gone through, and I read a lot of Mrs. Roosevelt's columns. She even has a column, which I recommend to you, about how annoyed she got when people would only talk about her hair style. I found that exceedingly comforting. (Laughter.)
And so I was encouraged to do this, and then Rick was nice enough to offer me the opportunity. And I wanted to do it for a couple of reasons -- to share with people some of the experiences that I had been privileged to have, from the very mundane of being able to drive a car, to meeting people like Nelson Mandela, for example.
And then, secondly, I really do care passionately about the issues that affect Americans because I do think they matter, and I wanted an opportunity to talk about some of those issues and, frankly, to advance arguments about issues that I thought would make a difference in the lives of the people of our country. And, of course, the two are related, because as I have traveled around the world and in our own country, I've both met people who have symbolized a lot of what I see going on in the country and I've learned more about the issues that I care about. Whether it is meeting Nelson Mandela or one of my childhood heroes, Ernie Banks, I always come away from these experiences enriched by it and wishing that I could take every American with me.
That's especially true as I travel around the world. I've often commented if I couldn't take every American with me, I wish I could take every American teenager with me, so that they could see what our country was like from a distance, they could see what other people go through to try to maintain democracy and they wouldn't necessarily take for granted, as I think many Americans do, the blessings that we have here, and understand more about what we have to offer here in the United States.
Now, deciding what to write about is very difficult for me. I try to make it topical in terms of what I'm doing during the week, so, obviously, last week I had to write about taking my daughter to college. And the week before that, because of the extraordinary events, I wrote about going to Mother Teresa's funeral and also the week before going to Princess Diana's funeral.
But that's not a typical week, thank goodness. Usually, my weeks are more like this week has been -- when I started in New York with my husband at the United Nations. We went to the Metropolitan Opera; we saw a marvelous young singer from Washington, D.C., Denise Graves, playing Carmen. And so I do everything in a week that I find both interesting as part of my obligations, and then I have to say, well, what is it that I'm going to write about. And sometimes I don't decide until very late in the day when the column is due. And there have been occasions when I've written one column and then, totally unimpressed by what I had written, had started from scratch, which is when Rick gets that chicken scratch coming in over the fax.
I think, though, that this search for balance that I'm constantly engaged in in my own life really reflects what many people go through, particularly women, because if we were to take a snapshot at any hour of the day of our lives during any particular week, we might draw conclusions about who we were or what we do that would be very different if we took a snapshot a day later, because we do balance and juggle so many other responsibilities during the course of our days and weeks. And so, for me, trying to figure out each morning what I'm doing, what my responsibilities are to my family or to my public duties, and then also what I want to see happen or what I would like to influence in our society is something that really does fill my days. And so I try to glean from all of that what might be of interest to someone outside my family.
And I've been very fortunate to witness a lot of historic moments -- certainly, Election Day I wrote about because I hate Election Day. They're difficult, you don't know what to do; you've done everything you can do and you just have to wait. Bill and I go vote; Chelsea comes along. And this year I had to fill my time up, so I went, to those of you who have ever been to Little Rock, to Doe's Eat Place, where they give you slabs of meat and all kinds of fixings, and sat around with a bunch of friends in a small back area, talking about our lives and just reminiscing. And then, ending there on the front of the Statehouse on that glorious autumn evening.
Inauguration Day was so much more relaxed this year than it was four years ago. I realized how relaxed it was when we went through the same routine that we had gone through in the previous four years, ending with a lovely lunch on the site of the Capitol, sponsored by the leadership of the Senate and the House, and I know that I'd been at a similar event four years before, sponsored by Democratic leadership that time, but the event was very much the same.
Then I really found I couldn't remember much about what had happened four years ago. When they handed us a picture they had taken at the Inaugural that had already been developed of the whole scene laid out in front of me, I said to Bill, that is so sweet of them to do that. I can believe they thought of it. And Newt Gingrich said, well, I think we did it four years ago. And I said, oh. And it was so interesting to me to have gone through the same experience twice, the first time being so overwhelmed by what happened.
Probably one of the highlights of that Inaugural lunch is that my daughter was seated between Strom Thurmond and Tom DeLay. (Laughter.) Now, I alluded to sitting next to Strom Thurmond in my column when I wrote about Inauguration. I did not say that he turned to her and he said, "Chelsea, if I were a younger man I'd court you." (Laughter.)
And there have been, in addition to those highlights of our time here, some very sad moments that have been tragic in their impact on the world. Certainly, the assassination and going to the funeral of Prime Minister Rabin of Israel was one of the worst times in the White House. And I have so many memories about my times with him. Both he and King Hussein used to give me a merciless ribbing because when I said at the White House there would be no smoking when we arrived, and both of them smoked constantly. And so -- and I didn't realize quite how seriously they were taking my injunction, because, of course, I'd do anything for Middle East peace, even let them smoke in the White House. (Laughter.) But they felt as a matter of honor that if I didn't let anyone else smoke, they wouldn't take advantage. And I found myself begging them to smoke at the White House. (Laughter.) That's okay, Your Majesty; Prime Minister, please, feel free. No, no, no, no, we will not. (Laughter.) But there were many wonderful personal memories as we went to represent our country at that terrible loss.
I also try to give people a sense of what goes on in the White House, talking about behind the scenes, preparing for a state dinner, preparing for Christmas. If you're a last-minute Christmas person as Bill and I are, you know how absolutely horrified I was to be told in June of 1993 that I was late in preparing for the upcoming Christmas in the White House. (Laughter.)
I went into total shock when the usher said to me, Mrs. Clinton, when do you think you'll start planning seriously? And I see Letitia here -- she knows exactly what we're talking about. And I said, well, it's June. And he said, yes, but we have much to do. And we start taking the theme for Christmas and we take the decorations and the orders, we start collecting them, we start putting together the wreaths in August. A big warehouse in Maryland.
Well, it was more than I could take. And it took me months to recover. But we finally made it through that first Christmas and have enjoyed every one since.
I've also tried to highlight people who I think are emblematic about what happens in our country and, frankly, tell some of the good news about what's going on, and the terrific energy that I find as I travel around the United States. People whose names will never appear in your newspapers, but who are leading, in my view, lives of courage because of the odds against which they struggle.
I wrote about Miriam, an older woman who volunteers in my office. Any of you who knows how the White House works know that you could not run the White House without volunteers and interns. That's one of the closely guarded secrets -- because we don't have a staff, for example, to answer the hundreds of thousands of letters we get if we did not have volunteers. And Miriam was a very faithful volunteer who, despite struggling with breast cancer, showed up for work, even though she was undergoing very painful and difficult treatments. She seldom arrived without cookies, pies, or other baked goods, so she kept all of my staff and the interns from the entire White House well fed during the time she was there.
And then when she died, I was honored to be asked to speak at her funeral. And I thought about what she and her family had gone through and it just made my concern and advocacy on behalf of breast cancer and other diseases, that ravage not only individuals but entire families, even more personal.
And when I talk about issues I try to bring somebody personal into them. Microcredit, which is hardly a subject that gets blood pulsing in people's veins, is something I feel very -- about and have seen the results of. So I try to tell the story of being in Denver and how a woman said to me, more good ideas die in the parking lots of banks than anywhere else in the world -- and how we needed to create more opportunities for entrepreneurs to have the credit they need to create better futures for themselves.
And I also have tried to bring to a wider audience what I know is happening in the lives of Americans, particularly working women, and try to say, this is a very difficult undertaking to be working, to be raising a family and to try to be involved in one's community. So I try to in some way profile in these columns talking about policy changes individuals who I know will be affected.
I really have appreciated the response that I have received from the people as I've gone around the country. One problem that provoked a tremendous response was on adoption, when I wrote about working with Mother Teresa's home here in Washington for infants who have been abandoned and to be given up for adoption. People stopped me on streets. I was in Jackson Hole with my husband hiking and a man grabbed my hand and thanked me for writing about adoption because he and his wife had just gone through a very difficult effort to try to adopt a child.
And then, because of my concern about adoption, we've been able to make some policy changes that will make a difference in kids' lives and to have events in the White House so I could write both personally about what I had learned and seen, and then from a policy perspective.
So I hope that these stories touched chords in people. But as Rick said, this column, very fortunately, is read around the world, so I also try every couple of columns or so to talk about what goes on on my travels or something that would affect readers in other parts of the world. And I also believe that's important for America back home, to realize how important our engagement is.
We were talking at the lunch table about how, now at the end of the Cold War, we won, we have all these new emerging democracies struggling with all the problems that we know they're facing; we can't give them a lot of aid; we're not going to give them a Marshall Plan to build their institutions, but we can pay respect and give them attention and make it seem as though we are empathizing with their particular struggles to become a fully democratic nation.
Probably one of the most moving trips that I've taken and I've tried to write about was when I went to Bosnia, and wrote about our troops there and what I found when I talked to them personally about their commitment to building democracy in that very troubled place.
When I went to Ireland, I met a woman named Joyce McCartland*, whom I wrote about, in a fish and chips shop. Her son, Gary, had been shot to death in his Belfast home one month shy of his 18th birthday. But she didn't get -- she helped to form the Women's Information Drop-in Center in Belfast where Catholic and Protestant women came together on behalf of peace. And in November -- or I guess at the end of October now -- I will go back to Belfast, because she died in the interim from the time I had met her and the university of Belfast -- Ulster University -- is creating a chair in honor of Joyce, and I'll be giving the inaugural lecture. So there will be a continuation of that story, which meant a lot that I wrote about Joyce McCartland to the people in Ireland, but particularly the women in Ireland who have taken so much grief for their courage in crossing those religious lines. And I feel like I owe her that honor in telling her story.
So in all of my travels I pay particular attention to women and children and to talk about both the positive stories that I see and also some of the tragic, negative ones.
One of the columns I filed from Air Force One I wrote after the state dinner in Bangkok. I was dressed up. We had had a wonderful time with the King and the Queen and we were back on Air Force One flying home, and I had to get the column in -- because I had calculated the time difference. And I wrote about how we had been at a state dinner, but what really had stuck in my mind is how I had gone to northern Thailand, I had met a number of the young women who had been sold into prostitution by their families and had been used repeatedly until they were infected with HIV, and then continued to be used as prostitutes until they developed symptoms of AIDS and then were basically turned out and sent home. And, of course, their families, which has profited from their sale, would not take them in.
The fact that you would travel through these small villages in northern Thailand, you could see visibly the families that had sold their daughters and those who had resisted, because their houses were better, they often had TV antennas, and there was a great deal of conflict in the communities about this terrible decision that so many of these families were making. And I was there to support a program that our government is helping to support where we are helping to pay small stipends to families to send their daughters to school, so the families can get some financial compensation and are not tempted to sell their daughters -- and also, working with the Thai government to enforce the laws that already exist against prostitution.
But this one young woman whom I met was dying. She was in a wheelchair. She wanted to meet me. They wheeled her out. She could not even speak, but we took our picture together and I got the picture developed when we got to Bangkok so that I could get it back to her immediately. And she died shortly after that. But I felt that her story, maybe more than any speeches about why the Thai government and our government should join together to fight against the exploitation of girls, made that point.
So, for me, this column has not only been an opportunity to communicate with people, but also to find out what touches me and what I'm thinking about. Certainly, the last three weeks have been filled with a lot of memories. My association with Princess Diana which led to my going to the funeral, and writing about her was one that I think, for all of us who saw that outpouring of emotion after her death, caused a lot of thinking and talking with close friends about what that meant.
Then the loss of Mother Teresa shortly after, going to Calcutta where I had never been before and which I'm still digesting. And the President will be going to India next year and I want to be sure that he doesn't just see the insides of palaces and hotel rooms, but also has some sense of what's happening in the largest democracy in the world.
And then, finally, writing the column about my daughter going to college helped me sort out my own feelings. As I was told when I was at Stanford by the people doing orientation for parents, we're the ones who are sad. We're looking back, we're thinking about the first day of school and all of the little milestones along the way. They're looking forward. And to try to both bring to the surface and write about some of my concerns about her time at college was very helpful to me.
So I'm very grateful. Although there are some nights when I'm sitting there with the pad and paper in front of me that I don't feel that way, I'm very grateful for this opportunity. I'm also grateful that I have wonderful help. My staff has pitched in, as they always do, and helped with research, helped often writing drafts on policy matters that I later can incorporate into the column. So it's been a real team effort from my end, and from, I think, Creators, as well.
So I want to thank you for giving me an opportunity, those of you who have carried it either regularly or on special occasions, to set out a little bit of what I see and feel from my vantage point. And I want to thank Creators for taking a chance on me. My only real journalistic experience came in the 8th grade when I was editor of the Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High School newspaper. (Laughter.) So this has been a real learning experience for me. And I want to thank you all for having me here today. (Applause.)
Q So we have time for just a few questions. Who would like to start off? Eloise?
Q Hello. Welcome to the wacky and terrifying world of syndicated columnists. (Laughter.) It's exhilarating and deadlines are terrifying, aren't they?
MRS. CLINTON: Yes, they are.
Q But I -- one column that you saved and don't tell anybody about. Do you have a helpful hint that I can pass on to my readers as a parent who has sent her little duckling off to college for the first time?
MRS. CLINTON: That's a wonderful question, because I obviously I have been the recipient of many helpful hints, and some of them are so absurd I couldn't possibly repeat them in public. (Laughter.) But I think that -- the best thing for me is just to keep in mind how excited and happy she is at this opportunity in her life, and to be willing to join in that excitement, and then to keep myself very, very busy.
I found that in the times that we've talked to her so far, I mean, there's just all this energy coming across the phone line and excitement about what she's doing and who she's meeting. And to be available and to listen, to be a part of what she is going through -- but then, to know that this is really -- in her life and I have to let that happen.
I had to take, as many of you did, I'd take Chelsea the first day of school started kindergarten, and I'd cry every year. And finally, when it got to be 8th grade, she said, that's it, I never want you to take me to school again. And I realized it was more for me than for her. It was -- for me to really appreciate how not only was she growing up, but her need for us as day-to-day presence in her life is diminishing. And that's certainly true now. So I'm trying to be very good-natured about it and stay very busy.
Q I know you have a prestigious list of newspaper clients, but have you received that letter of cancellation -- agonized over it? What was your reaction?
MRS. CLINTON: Oh, I just assumed it was political. (Laughter and applause.) Rick has spared me from the really painful details. But, of course -- and I do -- I mean, some people were very honest; during the '96 election campaign, they wouldn't carry the column. They said, we can't do it because we don't want to look like we are favoring the Clintons in any way. And I understand that completely.
I'm in a very unusual position which I appreciate, so there may be a lot of reasons why newspapers would feel a little reluctant. But I think if you look at the column and read them, and the fact that my husband is not running again which is certainly a big difference in my life, I think that they're not political in any sense that should cause anybody to be in an uproar. But I understand it completely. And so we've kind of gone back and forth on that. But I've been very surprised at the number of people around the world who have kept going and have carried the column, and I've been very gratified when people have picked up individual columns.
Q -- (inaudible) -- what are the ideal --
MRS. CLINTON: Oh, my goodness. I was very fortunate to have very good teachers -- Chelsea went to the public schools in Little Rock, and her kindergarten was an old-fashioned woman who really loved children and became a great -- with me -- understanding of what a child goes through. And she was very helpful in giving advice about encouraging your child to love learning, not being so concerned about whether they're reading or whether their little letters look like letters, but to be constantly interested, to show up every time the school doors open and the parents are invited.
I'll never forget going to Chelsea's kindergarten class Christmas play. And all the children were singing songs. They were all in front of the room. And Bill and I were there and the room was packed with parents and grandparents. And the children were pointing out their parents and grandparents. And there was one little boy nobody had come for. And it just broke my heart. And there may have been a very good reason, because, for all I know, that young boy has a single mom who nobody would let off work. But the effect on the youngster was really palpable, you could just feel the pain.
So I think showing that interest, being there, volunteering in the school, letting your child know how important school is to you, but not in a heavy-handed way -- you have to do this and you have to do that. I also think reading to a child, which I am a very big advocate of, is one of the most important ways to convey the interest in reading. And we did that all the way up until probably late grade school. We read every night. And then when she learned to read we would alternate, she would help read. But I think those are the kinds of things that if you do at home and you participate at school -- your child gets the message that learning should be fun and my parents really believe that it's important.
Q Do you or your husband have a favorite comic strip? (Laughter.)
MRS. CLINTON: I have to ask all of the comic strip creators to leave the room to answer that question. (Laughter.) Yes, we do, but that's one of those state secrets you'll have to read about in my memoirs. (Laughter.)
Q -- (inaudible) --
MRS. CLINTON: You know, I think -- that's something I've obviously thought about a lot. In fact, another thing Rick and I have in common is that he does a lot of work with my lawyers and they happen to be here -- not for me, but for him. (Laughter.) I think that -- I can't stand here and say that there's never a dark day. That would be total fabrication, because there are, and there are a lot of days when it's just so frustrating and maddening. But those days are far out-numbered by all the others that happen.
And when Bill was first in public life -- it seems like a hundred years ago, but it was 1974 -- and when he was first elected to office in 1976, I remember being very upset by what I saw or felt were unfair attacks, criticism, and the like. And I guess I decided fairly early on that I can either spend my time being upset and being angry and bitter, resentful over something I had no control over whatsoever, or I could just go on with my life and enjoy every day the best I could. And I tried to follow that. And early in his political career, I learned to try to take criticism personally, but not seriously -- I mean, take it seriously, but not personally. (Laughter.)
Take it seriously in the sense that if somebody has something to say that has some merit to it, you have to pay attention to it. And you really learn from good criticism. But if somebody has a personal agenda to wound you personally, or to undermine you for commercial reasons or partisan reasons or ideological reasons, it would be foolish to spend much time worrying about what they have to say. So trying to create that distance enables you to get up every day and do what you have to do.
I'm also very fortunate to be married to somebody who is so resilient and so optimistic and so positive about life that he has the same attitude. So we don't drag each other down, we've got to lift each other up. And he couldn't do his job if he were -- I look back now at some of the President's -- but going back further -- if you get consumed by what is said about you on television or in the newspaper you can't do your work.
When we moved into the White House -- and I'm a great admirer of the Bushes -- they had five television sets in their bedroom, and they used to start their day very early in the morning, I'm told, that by 5:30 a.m. -- they're early risers -- we're not, as you might guess. My husband stays up very late. But they would start the day by reading all the newspapers and turning on the television set. Well, if you're the President of the United States that is bound to put you in a bad mood. (Laughter.)
So the better practice, it seems to me, is to be very focused on what you're trying to do, and to do your job and let people judge the results and go from there. So that's what we've tried to do.
Q Have you attempted to use your column to answer your critics at any time -- (inaudible) --
MRS. CLINTON: Oh, where do I start? (Laughter.) You know, I have been tempted. And I've written one or two columns that you might construe as sort of answers. But the other thing is that in this dynamic environment in which we're living, if you answer somebody today, there's something tomorrow. And you spend all your time doing that. So I kind of wait for the dust to settle and don't get too agitated by whatever the latest dust storm might be. And usually there's no need to answer, and so I haven't really felt compelled to do so.
And there may be occasions in the next couple of years when again I will use the column to respond to something or to put out some different version of events that I think more accurately reflects what actually went on. But I don't feel much of a compulsion to do that.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)