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An Interview with
Senator Hillary Clinton 

May 10, 2005

 

 

Introduction:

Hillary Rodham Clinton, former First Lady, was elected to the US Senate from New York in 2000, and re-elected in 2006. Although her run for President in the Democratic Primary of 2008 was unsuccessful, she proved a woman could win primary state victories and come vey close to winning the nomination of a major party. In her speech of June 7, 2008, ending her campaign, she was clear that in the future, "It will be unremarkable to think that a woman can be President of the United States. And that is truly remarkable." She added, "To those who are disappointed that we couldn't go all the way - especially young people who put so much into this campaign - it would break my heart if, falling short of my goal, I in any way discouraged any of you from pursuing yours. Always aim high, work hard and care deeply about what you believe in. When you stumble, keep faith. When you get knocked down, get right back up. And never listen to anyone who says you can't or shouldn't go on." She discourages us from thinking "if only" or "what if." Emphatically she adds, "Every moment wasted looking back keeps us from moving forward."

" The dreams that I have for our country are that we continue to be the great beacon of hope and opportunity society that we’ve always been." - Hillary Clinton

Spencer:

So, how has your year been since November?

 

Senator:

Oh, it’s been busy. I’ve spent a lot of my energy trying to deal with many of the issues that we’re confronting. I’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve been very caught up in a lot of the issues around the war in Iraq, and in Afghanistan, and very worried about a lot of the consequences of our actions.

 

Spencer:

This year in school, we were taught about media literacy. You have been outspoken about the effects that media have on children. It seems to me there is too much violence and sex, and commercials are promoting junk food, which contributes to the rise in child obesity.  Are we able to reverse this trend?

 

Senator:

Well I hope so. You’re right to focus on this. I especially appreciate it coming from a young person.  What I worry about is that the messages on the media are so much more powerful than most people really understand. Otherwise, why would advertisers spend billions of dollars? They know it has an effect. And we have good evidence now that many children are spending countless hours in front of the television set, as well as other media: the internet, video games, music, it’s just a totally all-encompassing media environment that children are living in today. And there’s a direct relationship between exposure to violence and aggressive behavior. There’s also a direct relationship to bad food choices, because of what’s advertised. So I think we need to make this a higher national priority. I have some legislation, which is bipartisan, that we have introduced to try to do more research about the effects of media, so we could convince more parents and more educators, and just more of the general public that this is not just a kind of marginal issue, but it’s a central issue to what is happening to many of our children. Now, there are many children who see the same TV shows and they aren’t affected. But a lot of that is your temperament, your sensitivity, the stability of your family, your neighborhood, the quality of your education, all of that. So I think that we should work to reverse this trend, because it’s having long-term consequences.

 

Spencer:

In middle school, we have this whole course on media literacy.

 

Senator:

That’s very smart. So you can be a smart consumer. No, really. Because so many kids, they don’t have that. And therefore, they’re just easy prey for whatever the media tells them.

 

Spencer:

A great American president once said, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be fixed by what is right in America.” Can you help me understand this a little better?

 

Senator:

Absolutely.  That “great American president,” whom I know quite well, really believes, as I do, that for every problem we have in America, there is a solution. But we oftentimes don’t know what the solution is.  So that, for example, in talking about media literacy—courses in media literacy should be available in every middle school. What your school is doing is a great example. So we need to get the word out. That does make a big difference in the quality of people’s education, their ability to make good decisions to protect themselves.

 

Spencer:

We learned in history the importance of checks and balances in government. In the last few years, we have seen the Executive Branch trying to control more and more. Is something wrong?

 

Senator:

Something is wrong. The genius behind our form of government is checks and balances. In other words, the founders set up our system so that no one part of our government, or no one person in our government, could acquire too much power. Now, sometimes from the outside, it seems a little frustrating. “Oh, you know, the Senate takes so long,” or “Why should the Federal Court be able to tell a member of Congress what they can or can’t do,” but it’s worked really well for us now for more than 200 years. And unfortunately, I believe that the current administration and the Republican leadership in the Congress are so adamant about having their own way on everything they believe is right that they’re willing to change rules. And that’s the current debate we’re having in the Senate, about something called the filibuster. It is a tool that was used over many years to protect the rights of the minority. You know, the way the Senate is set up, it is really a compromise between the majority and the minority, and you’re in the minority in several ways. You’re in the minority if you’re in the minority political party. You’re in the minority, in a sense, if you’re a really big state like the one I represent, and you don’t have any more power in the Senate than somebody who represents the smallest state. So it was set up to have a check and a balance across regional and political lines. And the filibuster was a tool to slow things down. Because the House, everybody knew, would act much faster and with more passion, as the Federalist Papers discuss, and the Senate would slow things down. And now there is this move on to try to really change the nature of the Senate, which I think would be a big mistake.

 

Spencer:

I agree completely. Recently, I was fortunate to meet Michael J. Fox and ask him some important questions. Needless to say, he is a strong voice for embryonic stem cell research. What can Congress do to help support what may be one of the greatest medical advances of our time? Will Bill X471, which you recently chose to sponsor, pass and start the ball rolling?

 

Senator:

I don’t know. I think there are very serious ethical and moral issues that have to be taken into account, and I think that we can create opportunities for appropriate uses of certain stem cells derived from embryos that would be discarded anyway. And there are many thousands of those. People who have trouble having a child, they have an embryo created, and then they may decide not to go forward, or physically they can’t, or whatever the reason might be. And I think it’s also important to note that in the absence of any rules, the President’s rule is that we can’t spend any federal money on anything other than research derived from a very limited number of stem cell lines. And those, unfortunately, were contaminated, they aren’t the best to do the research on. But a bigger problem is that, if that’s our only rule, there is no rule on what people can spend private money on. I think that’s a big, big mistake, because literally, you could go to some multi-gazillionaire who says, “I want to create another Spencer Brodsky.” And that’s wrong! That should be criminalized. But it’s not. So everybody needs to take a deep breath and come up with a better solution than what we currently have. Both to advance medical research that might very much make the difference between life or death, or improve quality of life, and to criminalize things that all of us believe would be morally wrong.

 

Spencer:

My last interview was with Frank Abagnale, the subject of the 2003 movie “Catch Me If You Can.” As you may know, he is one of a few Americans who has lived successfully in two worlds—the very bad and the very good. His problems began at age sixteen, after his parents divorced. What can the village do to help children and teenagers who face difficult challenges?

 

Senator:

Well, the most important thing is to strengthen parental responsibility and family responsibility, because ultimately, that is the most important institution in any child’s family. And I think when people have children, they have to be willing to make sacrifices for their children and to be responsible in the enterprise of raising their children.  So it’s important that the adults in a child’s life remain involved. And obviously, if a divorce does happen, that both parents get over whatever bad feelings they might have toward each other and stay committed to raising their child. And then there does need to be more opportunities for other adults to help children—through mentoring, through after-school programs, through experiences both in school and out of school. So I think there’s a lot we can do. And we then have to take extra careful measures to help children with illnesses, mental and physical illnesses that sometimes interfere with their ability to learn or to be productive; we have to have more second chance programs for kids who get into trouble, because there are some really bad kids, but a lot of kids get into trouble because they don’t have good outlets, they have no alternatives—so we need to be looking for ways to help the kids who can be helped. And all of that takes money, but more than money, it takes adults who care about kids and are willing to spend their time with kids.

 

Spencer:

One senator, not too long ago, said, “The future will not belong to those who sit on the sidelines. The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” What are your dreams? 

 

Senator:

Well, I think that certainly, the dreams that I have for our country are that we continue to be the great beacon of hope and opportunity society that we’ve always been. And here at home, continue to give people the chance to live up to their God-given potential, and around the world, demonstrate that freedom and democracy are not just words in a dictionary, but the means for people having much more fulfilling and successful lives. So what I try to do in the Senate is to work toward helping people get the tools they need—a good education, quality health care, a safe environment—so that they can then do the hard work of having their own dreams and living up to them. So it’s, for me, a beginning presumption that people need to have positive dreams. Because those positive dreams will help to direct their lives, and they’re more likely to lead a positive life if they have a positive dream. But for many young people, if they don’t see anything positive in their lives, it’s pretty hard for them to break out of their environment and be positive. So we need other means of helping young people have positive dreams so that they can then do what they hope to do with their own lives.

 

Spencer:

So meaningful.

 

Senator:

Thank you. Thank you, Spencer.  Well, as always, good questions.