There were only seven hours to go before the Democratic presidential debate in New Hampshire last week. But Hillary Clinton took a break from her preparations to talk by phone with Chief White House Correspondent Kenneth T. Walsh. Excerpts:
What did your experience as first lady teach you about being a successful president?
Maybe first and foremost, understanding what the potential opportunities for president would be and the limits of presidential power. And I certainly learned that both through the observations of what my husband did and all the people working for him and my own experience as well. You know, I think I have a much better understanding of the institutional and personal dynamics of how to get things done in Washington. And the importance of relationships.
I guess a good example is your working with Sen. Lindsey Graham, who favored impeaching your husband.
I think it's a very good example. When I decided to run for the Senate, I wanted to run a campaign that would reach out to every part of New York. I wanted to let the people of New York know that I would do everything I could to represent them to the best of my ability and that meant, you know, getting results. And I had to, you know, build alliances with people across the aisle to get anything done.
What are you most proud of from your time as first lady?
I was able to represent our country around the world, particularly at the Beijing conference on women, and I was very grateful to have that opportunity to really stand up before the world and express my strong feelings and what I knew to be the feelings of the country that I was representing. And that had a lot of ripple effects which are being felt even today. I was very pleased that I had a chance to do so much on the children's agenda that I've worked on for 35 years.
There's this notion that you are really a left-wing zealot. How do you get beyond that?
I think that's what campaigns are for. A lot of the same things were said about me when I started running for the Senate. But I believe that the American people will give you a fair shake if you're out there, talking about what you believe, what you want to do, what you think is important. And that's what happened in New York, and it's what I see happening in this campaign. I mean, one of the most common things people say to me, Ken, is, you're not at all like what I thought you were. And that's music to my ears because I'm well aware of the fact that for all kinds of reasons, ideological or partisan, even commercial reasons, I have been turned into a caricature.
Do you think the rest of the campaign will be very harsh?
I'm sure going to try to avoid that. I think that it's important to run a campaign on the issues. Obviously, if I am attacked I'm not to stand by and leave it unanswered, because I don't think that does the electorate a service. Because if people see a candidate being attacked, unfortunately, if you don't respond, too many people draw the conclusion that, well, maybe there is some truth to it, so you have to try to provide Americans with accurate information and then let them make their decision.
What difference would it make to have a woman president?
Having the first woman president would be extraordinarily positive for our country here at home and around the world. Now, as I travel from New Hampshire to Nevada and speak before these very large crowds, I'm struck by how many people bring their children, particularly their daughters, and as I finish speaking and go out and start shaking hands, I often hear a father or a mother lean over and whisper in their daughters' ears, "See, honey, you can do whatever you set your mind to." I think you cannot underestimate the importance of that. Now on a day-to-day basis of making the decisions that a president has to make, it comes down to the individual. I will probably be more focused on some of the children's issues that I've spent 35 years, you know, working on that I care passionately about that I think are important for America than perhaps someone who is not a woman, or not a mother, might feel the same commitment to.
But would someone like Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad welcome that kind of change?
You're not aiming at government leaders in every instance, you're aiming at the people. Until very recently, the Iranian people, which is a very young demographic, were extremely positive toward the United States.