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?

5 thoughts on “Clinton redefines job of secretary of state

  1. At least some of the personal interest comes from her being such an inspiring figure to so many women and girls– clearly what motivates the baseball player’s question. This strikes me as similar to the extraordinary interest in Obama. When someone is a role model, people want to know about them. Given that, I wouldn’t want it otherwise.

  2. Great point about Obama’s recent decisions on Afghanistan – leaving Bush’s policy in place. I’m trying to remember npr or pacific yesterday, perhaps with news that CIA redentitions will continue?? NOT the change many hoped for.

    I suspect, on thinking about it, that HC positively invited – explicitly or not – personal questions. (I’m really happy with the idea that she broke a stereotype here.) Still, someone with more experience than I have of Japan might address the question of how rigid the separation between private and public among strangers is in that country, and others she was visiting. Or indeed whether one can generalize. I do have a pretty embarassing story about my own attempts at a dinner in Japan to raise a question as personal as “but what do you really think about Bush.” I expect sake was in part the cause of my attempt, but I nonetheless have an unfortunately clear memory of the situation.

  3. Yeah, well I once asked a roomful of Swedes whether it was true that Swedes were really into porn, and I hadn’t even had anything to drink. (I was just having trouble coping with Swedish conversational silences.)

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