Clinton redefines job of secretary of state

Or so the NY Times suggests.  She is mixing the political with the personal in a way past foreign secretaries have apparently not done, at least in their public persona.  (Madeline Albright certainly did share personal details,  but perhaps not in her official role.)  Thus:

In Indonesia on Thursday, Mrs. Clinton appeared on a popular variety show, “Awesome,” on which she told the young host, somewhat sheepishly, that her favorite musicians were the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. She politely declined to sing, saying it would empty the room.

None of this is especially new to Americans, who watched Mrs. Clinton show her personal side in countless town hall meetings during the presidential campaign. But it is novel to people outside the United States, who expect foreign ministers — even American ones — to stick to a diplomatic script.

As she neared the end of her maiden voyage as secretary of state with a two-day visit to Beijing, Mrs. Clinton said she was determined to make a connection to people “in a way that is not traditional, not confined by the ministerial greeting and the staged handshake photo.”

“I see our job right now, given where we are in the world and what we’ve inherited, as repairing relations, not only with governments but with people,” she said to reporters on Friday.

To do that, Mrs. Clinton is exploiting both her megawatt celebrity and her training during the presidential campaign. On Friday, nearly 3,000 female students packed an auditorium at Ewha Womans University in Seoul to hear Mrs. Clinton deliver a speech that ranged from North Korea’s nuclear threat to the challenge women face in balancing work and family.

clintonasiaAnother standing-room-only crowd at the University of Tokyo listened to Mrs. Clinton discuss how the United States should rebuild its ties to the Muslim world. Toward the end, a nervous young woman, who said she played on a baseball team, asked Mrs. Clinton how to become as strong as she was.

“Well, I played a lot of baseball, and I played with a lot of boys,” she replied, to peals of laughter.

Of course, for a professional woman it is not all that unusual to find one’s audience can’t separate one’s official role from one’s personal details, even when they don’t have much trouble doing that with a man.  So I would worry a bit about the personal questions.  However, I’m overall relieved that  HC is  seeing this as a opportunity to repair relations, and hope the result eventually will be that mention of personal details will not be seen as reducing one’s credibility.  When I was involved with university administrators and regents  I used sometimes  to try to defend someone’s mentioning something personal by saying, “Of course, men seem to think that someone with no personal experience of a particular problem is the best person to solve it, while women tend to think that view is highly implausible.”  Perhaps not fair, but still … .

There is a possible problem with Clinton’s actions on this trip.  She is explicitly addressing issues such as climate change and  putting human rights concerns in the background.  Amnesty International is understandably upset, but I’m inclined to think her record on advocating for human rights won’t make this seem like a policy shift.  Not all problems can be addressed, and one hopes she and the Obama administration are clearly heavily concerned with human rights policies.

What do you think?