I’ll admit it. I geeked out a little when I heard that the first woman Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright was going to be in Iowa campaigning on behalf of her friend and fellow top diplomat, Hillary Clinton. She spoke at one of my favorite restaurants, Dixie Quicks, which meant that I had to take an early lunch to hear her.
We take our first-in-the-nation status seriously in Iowa and committing to caucus requires more than a few minutes in the voting booth. It can mean spending a few hours in a high school classroom or senior center debating the merits of each candidate. We also kinda love that these big shots have to come to our little state and try not to look awkward while eating pork chops on a stick. Candidates and their surrogates are up-close-and-personal in Iowa and that’s exciting.
Secretary Albright called the caucus system the “greatest expression of democracy.”
She only spoke for about fifteen minutes, but Albright was friendly and accessible and reminded me of my fifth grade teachers. Dressed in a gray pantsuit (Yeah, I know. No one talks about what male candidates wear) she was rocking one of her trademark lapel pins -- a big, gold eagle with what looked like turquoise in the middle. The 78-year-old was also sporting red, kitten heels. A perfect choice for an active older lady who apparently has a flair for accessorizing. She’s also smaller than I expected, which delighted me. I’m short, but for some (dumb) reason I expect a powerful woman to be taller.
More importantly, I wanted to hear what she had to say about her experience as our top diplomat and her friendship with Hillary Clinton. In her speech Secretary Albright called herself a feminist. She didn’t apologize for it, she didn’t explain it or qualify it. She’s a feminist because of course she is.
“Societies are better off when women are politically and economically empowered,” she told the crowd.
When Albright first became Secretary of State in 1997 she says that Henry Kissinger told her, “Welcome to the fraternity.”
She responded, “It’s not a fraternity anymore, Henry.”
Albright was Ambassador to the United Nations and later Secretary of State during the Clinton administration. She traveled with then First Lady Hillary Clinton to the Beijing Women’s Conference in 1997 when she gave her famous speech calling for greater women’s rights, “If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.”
It was during that conference that Secretary Albright says they were constantly spied on, “If you travel abroad and the mirror in the bathroom does not fog up everywhere. It’s because there’s a camera.”
The secretary's remarks were light hearted, but also meant to highlight Clinton’s wide range of experience. She also embraced the idea that Hillary would be good for women as the first woman president -- something Mrs. Clinton also appears to be emphasizing more than she did in 2008.
Albright called women’s rights “a subject that is so much a part of her (Clinton's) life and it was certainly something that she did a great deal as Secretary of State.”
“I also now know that I wouldn’t have been Secretary of State if it hadn’t been for her,” said Albright.
She went on to explain that after the 1996 election President Bill Clinton was looking for a new Secretary of State, but some people didn’t think a woman could be our nation’s top diplomat. The argument was that the Arabs wouldn’t work with a woman. However, the U.N. ambassadors from Arab countries said they had no problem working with her as an ambassador and would have no problem working with her as Secretary of State.
Hillary then went to President Clinton and said, “Why wouldn’t you name Madeleine? She is the one that is closest to your views, expresses them better than anybody else and, besides, it would make your mother happy.”
Albright’s speech certainly served to make Hillary Clinton relatable, but it was also focused on her unique qualifications as an attorney, First Lady, and a Senator from New York during a tough time.
“I think she was a great Secretary of State,” said Albright. She went on to explain that Secretary Clinton rebuilt a lot of the goodwill and reputation that the United States lost during the second Bush Administration.
“We are an exceptional nation,” she said, “But we don’t ask that exceptions be made for us, which is what happened during the Bush Administration.”
“I am part of the family and I certainly am prejudiced,” Albright said, acknowledging her close relationship with the Clintons, “But I do think there is nobody that is running or has run that is better prepared to be president than Hillary Clinton.”