Hillary Clinton Comes to Campus
“I was so excited, I jumped three feet in the air when I got a ticket,” said Haverford’s Gift Planning Manager Margaret Gindhart about learning she'd be attending a town hall meeting with presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, her daughter Chelsea, and her mother Dorothy Rodham.
A few hours later, she and some 250 others walked through Secret Service metal detectors in Founders Great Hall. The purpose of the April 17 gathering, sponsored by the Haverford and Bryn Mawr chapters of Students for Hillary Clinton, was for Clinton to address issues close to the hearts of women and families; indeed, many mother-daughter pairs were in attendance, as well as those like Gindhart who won tickets through a Haverford lottery.
Some, like Kaitlin Menza BMC ’09, were Clinton supporters from the get-go. “I’m really looking forward to seeing her in person,” she said. “I’m star-struck. She’s really won me over.”
Others, like Jared Forbus ’10, hoped that the meeting would help him decide once and for all who to vote for in the April 22 Pennsylvania Democratic primary. “This will be a major policy speech,” he said, “and in an election it’s very important to hear what each candidate has to say. We should take advantage of every opportunity.”
Outside on Founders lawn, members of the Haverford and surrounding community who did not gain admittance to the Great Hall watched the meeting on a JumboTron television screen.
In introduction, Chelsea Clinton expressed her pride in her mother and her belief, as a young voter and as someone who hopes to start a family someday (“Which would make my mother and grandmother very happy,” she laughed), that Clinton is the strongest candidate to address such issues as safety in schools. “My mother and my grandmother are my role models,” she said, “and I hope to be as good a mom as mine has been to me.”
Hillary Clinton began her own speech by praising Haverford: “[This is] an extraordinary college, with a well-deserved reputation.” She received some of the loudest cheers of the afternoon when she welcomed Bryn Mawr: “I also went to a Seven Sisters college, and I’m proud of the tradition.”
She announced her intention to help families throughout the country by “creating conditions so that people can live up to their God-given potential and pursue their dreams.” These conditions, she said, include good jobs, a stable economy, health care for everyone, and education as “a passport to opportunity.”
Among Clinton’s goals are expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act (which was passed by her husband in 1993), experimenting with paid leave, and generally making workplaces more flexible for those needing to address personal and family needs. She also hopes to see families become more involved in their children’s schooling.
Clinton recalled her days as a young lawyer at a time when there were still questions regarding women in the workforce, and reading an advice columnist advising women who had been promoted not to display photographs of their families in their offices, lest others think she couldn’t keep her mind on her work. “I then brought dozens of family pictures to my office,” she said.
Clinton also spoke about the continuing underpayment of women in the workforce, pointing out that April 22, the day of the primary, is also Equal Pay Day. She is a sponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act, which enforces provisions of equal pay in the workplace. She also promised, as president, to invest more money in quality child care, as well as put programs in place supporting women who opt to stay home, and create tax credits for caregivers of elderly and disabled family members. “We talk about family values, but we need to show that we really value families,” she said.
Clinton paid special tribute to breast cancer survivors, honoring members of the National Breast Cancer Coalition who were in the audience. “I want, in your lifetimes, to find a cure for breast cancer,” she told the group. She said she would double the budget for the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute for Cancer Research, and encourage more in-depth research of the environmental factors related to the disease.
The senator then took questions from the audience, first answering a query from Maggie Bishop '10 about the best ways to help Hurricane Katrina survivors who continue to suffer, and how to handle future natural disasters. Saying it was “disgraceful” that this issue is still being discussed due to the current administration’s failure, Clinton lauded students who had volunteered to help hurricane victims and said, “This is a perfect example of what America can do together—we can fulfill any mission, just give us the mission.” She stressed the need for a first-rate emergency response system, and would require the director of FEMA to, she said, “actually have experience in managing emergencies.”
A professor of environmental studies at Neumann College asked how Clinton would respond to Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s intention to support the Kyoto Protocol only if India and China supported it first. Although Clinton praised McCain for breaking ranks with his party on environmental issues and working with her to review climate control studies, she said she would go further, involving developing nations with Kyoto and encouraging countries like China to pursue initiatives involving clean coal, thermal rays, and solar power. “It’s all doable,” she said. “Too many think it’s not.”
A Philadelphia public school teacher wanted to know how Clinton would raise literacy rates among children. “Start early,” the senator advised, remembering reading to Chelsea when she was a baby. “Families are the first teachers.” She aims to implement training programs for young families, create early Head Start and pre-kindergarten programs especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, end No Child Left Behind, and get lead out of homes and yards: “It kills kids’ ability to learn.”
Samuel Leath ’10, who sported a Hillary sticker on his shirt, asked a two-part question: how would she handle immigration, and what would she want students canvassing for her to say? Responding to the first part, Clinton spoke of her immigrant grandfather and called immigrants “a source of strength for the country, giving us the gift of diversity.” The dilemma, she said, lies in how to remain a nation of both immigrants and laws. As president, she would strengthen borders, crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants, help communities bear the costs of immigration, work with Mexico to create more jobs within that country, and offer illegal immigrants paths to legalization if they meet certain conditions, such as paying fines and back taxes and learning English.
Answering the second part of Leath’s question, Clinton joked, “You could knock on doors and say, ‘She’s really nice,’ or ‘She’s not as bad as you think.’” Turning serious, she compared a presidential election to “an extended job interview” and asked voters to consider who they would hire to turn the economy around, provide universal health care, make college more affordable (she would allow college students to perform public service and have their debt forgiven over time), and end the war in Iraq. She reiterated her plan to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq within 60 days of her election and pursuing aggressive diplomacy throughout the region. Reminding the crowd that she has been endorsed by 35 generals and admirals, Clinton averred, “I’m ready to be Commander-in-Chief on Day One.”
After the meeting, Chelsea Clinton mingled with the crowd on Founders lawn, shaking hands, signing autographs, and posing for pictures. A short while later, Clinton herself greeted the cheering throng from the Founders porch, and implored them to vote on April 22—even, she said, if they did not vote for her.
Clinton supporter Julie O’Neil BMC ’10 said that her enthusiasm for the candidate had been strengthened by the town hall meeting. “People had amazing questions,” she says, “and I loved hearing her answer them, hearing her specific plans. She’s not feeding us speeches; she knows what she’ll do.”