The First Draft: Hillary Clinton’s bad day

August 11, 2009

CONGO-DEMOCRATIC/CLINTON-OUTBURSTSome days, you really have to feel for Hillary Clinton. And this could be one of those days.

Secretary of State Clinton’s bad day started Monday in Kinshasa, in the middle of a grueling African trip, when a translator goofed and made it sound as if a questioner wanted to know what Clinton’s husband Bill thought of a particular issue. While on this tour, she’d already had to comment on the former president’s humanitarian mission to free to U.S. journalists from North Korea, and basically, she’d had about enough.

Read a just-the-facts Reuters story on what happened here and watch the video below.

But because the Clintons are the Clintons, with a long history in the public eye, that was hardly the end of it. Tuesday morning television — CNN, ABC, NBC, others — replayed the video of Hillary Clinton snapping at the student questioner: “You want me to tell you what my husband thinks? If you want my opinion, I will tell you my opinion, I am not going to be channeling my husband.” It was a five-star video on YouTube.

Back at the State Department, Assistant Secretary P.J. Crowley acknowledged that the question, however poorly it was translated — the questioner wanted to know what President Barack Obama thought, not former President Clinton — struck a nerve. Crowley told CNN that her reaction had to be taken in the context of her African trip, where she has worked to draw attention to the plight of women who are victims of rape as a weapon of war in Congo.

“If Africa, if Congo is going to advance, women have to play a more significant role. She was in the setting of a town hall, and the questioner was interested in what two men thought, not the secretary of state,” Crowley said.

No question about it, Hillary Clinton is a polarizing figure. But whatever you think, being secretary of state is challenging enough, especially on an exhausting trip to a continent with critical diplomatic issues, without being second-guessed about how she feels when asked questions involving her high-profile husband or the man she ran against who is now president.

Or is she fair game, no matter what the circumstances?

In domestic U.S. politics, Obama heads for Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for a town hall meeting on health care. Fireworks possible.

For more Reuters political news, click here.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Joe Bavier (Hillary Clinton in Kinshasa, August 10, 2009)


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YAY Hillary! I loved seeing the real girl! I never liked her before this “outburst”, and now I’m ready to vote for her!

Posted by Becky | Report as abusive

Hilary Clinton is an extremely astute Secretary of State. Here in this interview the translator evidently botched up the translation. Of course Hilary was right. She is the Secretary of State and she was prepared to give her views not her husband’s! However one should not make a mountain out of a mole-hill.

Posted by Pancha Chandra | Report as abusive

As much as I dislike Hilary Clinton I am with her on this.

Posted by PwlM | Report as abusive

Sec. of State Hillary Clinton kept her cool. She was correct to respond that she does not speak for her husband. She speaks as the Sec. of State. If the translator made an error why pick on Mrs. Clinton? The question as posed was out of order.

Posted by Chris | Report as abusive


Posted by Rattosh51 | Report as abusive

She should have been gracious in answering it. First by repeating the question, then being kind and classy in answering it. She acted like an overblown egocentric, and it reflected badly on her.

Posted by kris gifford | Report as abusive

What a pathetic excuse for a woman — in power only because of her successful husband. She should step down and allow someone with the mental stability and skills necessary to be an effective Secretary of State.

Posted by Joe | Report as abusive

I think that Ms. Clinton is doing a fine job as Secretary of State and it was an excellent decision on the part of President Barack Obama to ask her to serve in this position, and an equally excellent decision, on Ms. Clinton’s part, to accept. This way we have the incredible talents of these two superb people serving our nation — how fortunate we are!!

Posted by Richard A. Wells | Report as abusive

Why should I feel sorry for a woman whose JOB it is to remain tactful with foreigners when she “snaps”?

Posted by Carrie | Report as abusive

I hope she’s getting enough to eat, I’m living on Corn Flakes day by day on friends and families couches, with no health insurance while she’s on the ‘I gotta be me Tour dancing through Africa’.

Did I mention Mrs. Clinton that Em/c3 Theory agrees with the 1st and 2nd laws of Thermodynamics?

If she wants to regain the spotlight, she should return with an adopted African baby, better yet – twins.

That would be a more worthy headline.

Posted by James Reginald Harris, jr | Report as abusive

To the Honorable Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton:
Boy I admire you! As a Canadian woman, I have watched carefully how you have handled the many changes you have had in your life since Mr. Clinton was president.
Your grace, loyalty, fire, class, and insight into relevant issues make you already a formidable woman who can hold her own.
Bless you for your reply, which says to women all over the world, that they too have a chance to penetrate the glass ceiling. All they have to do is to believe in themselves like you have consistently done for all these years.
Thanks again!

Posted by Andrea Hodges | Report as abusive

I wondered how she would ultimately react to BC’s trip to N Korea, and I got my answer. As SoS, that should have been her – but let’s face it – he’s a much larger presence and since it was not officially a state visit, there shouldn’t have been any concessions or promises made that would tie back to the BO administration. Hopefully….

Posted by Glen | Report as abusive

Hillary, even if you are having a bad day there is no excuse for such truculent behavior. You are Secretary of State, and the questions are being translated in real time. Stop pouting because you aren’t President and be glad that you are one of the Most Powerful Women in the World. Madame Secretary, how about a little Cultural Sensitivity here?

Posted by George | Report as abusive

Hillary Clinton mission as State Sec is to rescue American foreign policy and global reputation that was pretty much destroyed by Bush II, the Neocon Fundamentalist Idiot.

That is a Herculean task by any measure, even without handling all the disastrous problems and issues America current face.

In 6 short months she has done much. She is human – give her a break!!!

Those who criticize her are immature, have never been in position of high responsibility and stress. Try to do 1% of her job yourself.

How would you feel if someone asked you the same kind of question? I know what I would say – I’d answer exactly the same. And I am a man of her age with far less accomplishments.

Posted by The Real Deal | Report as abusive

LOve HER She’s great

Posted by Flo Brown | Report as abusive

Amen, Real Deal. Couldn’t have said it better. Let her get on with it.

Posted by Ann | Report as abusive

Mrs. Clinton’s outburst is inexcusable. She could have used the same words but without the temper display, and that would have been fine. What she did was not. Those people praising her appearently don’t care what the rest of the world thinks of US. As far as her high stress job goes, well she took on the job, she needs to deal with it. I personally do not think she is even remotely qualified for it.

Posted by Whatever | Report as abusive

As a representative of the USA, Mrs. Clinton should be well skilled in diplomatic situations and responses. Here she was not, she sounded like a mad scorned woman when the question came across about her husband. She should have answered the question as a statesman without the scorned woman snap.

Posted by Bonnie | Report as abusive

If Condoleezza Rice had acted so rude, the Democrats would have been asking for her resignation. Diplomacy, not hostile disrespect. The position is one of service. Hillery is just upset she is not making political gains in the U.S.

Posted by Roger | Report as abusive

Real Deal, you have got to be kidding, right? If you are as old as you say you are, then you know that our (US) recent image problems abroad are nothing new. It’s not the first time, nor is it the last that the US will be criticized for it’s public stance and foreign policy. To try to make the issue be about President Bush is nothing more than an effort to deflect attention away from the real issue, which is how the Secretary of State handled a question she didn’t like.

As the one who is supposed to be the top diplomat, she is supposed to be able to handle questions with aplomb and grace, regardless of her personal feelings. She is the Secretary of State, and the job is about foreign relations, and relationships. Her response and subsequent failure to respond to the actual question was not something new, nor unexpected if you’ve paid any attention to her since President Clinton first began campaigning back for the 1992 election. She’s got history of petulant and aggressive behavior to those she feels inferior, and to those who challenge her.

The Secretary of State works for the President, and s/he is supposed to be able to articulate the Presidents position on any number of foreign policy issues. She does not dictate foreign policy as some have suggested, and the question asked, what was the President and her position. The mistake was the translator saying Bill Clinton instead of Obama. Once he corrected himself, she should have apologized and answered the question. Instead, there is this ridiculous debate going on.

I think that those of you defending her the strongest are the same ones who would have been calling for the head of Condoleezza Rice had she acted similarly.

It doesn’t matter that she’s had a difficult trip, or the job is tough, or any other excuse. She should have known the job was going to be tough before accepting the nomination, and she either needs to deal with it or step aside and let someone who will deal with it take the position. Excuses are like armpits, everyone has one and they all stink!

Posted by DumbOnes | Report as abusive

I feel that Sec. Clinton acted beneath her role in the Executive Office. Regardless of her “bad day” she represents the United States when traveling in an official capacity. To snap out of anger or frustration in a town hall meeting in Congo is disappointing.

The fact that she felt the need to state emphatically “My husband is not the Secretary of State… I am” sounds as though she questions her own fitness for the position.

Posted by Sam L. | Report as abusive

It’s clear that many men simply don’t understand the degree of slight present in the translator’s error. Mrs. Clinton has been on the road for a very long trip and doesn’t need the insult of the question as presented to her. I think it was a really honest and refreshing response to the perceived

Posted by P.J. King | Report as abusive

Hillary Rodham Clinton just proved what many people say, she is arrogant and rude. I would add, she is not qualified for her postion. If such an innocent issue tips her out of balance, how will she negotiate when it is about nuclear weapons in hands of fundamentalists?

Posted by John Doe | Report as abusive

Do you want a prissy politically correct talking head on stage or a real person? She seems like a reasonable choice for a secretary of state.

Posted by Richard | Report as abusive

Is Hillary Clinton the secretary of state or the secretary of mate? It seems she was reponding to what she was paid to do instead of responding to what she chose to do. Is this the first time a spouse stood up for themself? Not in my world anyway.

Posted by ELKHUN10 | Report as abusive

What was the original question? So far I have neither seen nor heard it nor been able to find it. Would someone, please, just publish, audio or text, a complete, verbatim, in French, copy of the original question? Then we’ll know whether or not it was an error in translation, without having to rely upon journalists or “spokespersons”.
Btw, Mrs Clinton’s response to the question as put to her was perfectly justified. Error in translation or not, the question, as put, was idiotic.

Posted by Ricardo Cabeza | Report as abusive