Hillary Clinton's Secret Weapon

On a recent trip to Burma—where human rights have been crushed for half a century—Hillary Clinton shook hands with a young waitress who later sobbed to writer Lisa DePaulo, “She is our only hope.” What gives Clinton the power to connect so strongly with women in need? DePaulo wondered. In an inspiring and intimate conversation, Hillary reveals the answer

By Lisa DePaulo
hillary clinton in burma image
“This one Buddha looks like a woman,” Clinton observed during the traditional statue-anointing. After 11 pours, she asked, “Can I make 11 wishes?”
Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

In some ways, Clinton’s commitment to women’s rights is also gender neutral. She sees women’s issues as critical “to our own national security and foreign policy,” says Philippe Reines. “It’s not a coincidence that the places where women and children have the most problems are the same countries that we have other problems with or [which] have internal conflict.” To that end, Clinton says she has “tried to inject women’s rights across the entire realm of American diplomacy, and I’m institutionalizing that, so [for] whoever comes after me, it’s seen as just natural, not something that is associated only with me.”

In our own country, she says, “we have come such a far way in a relatively short period of time. But I was surprised to read and hear interviews with the voters of Iowa in the Republican caucus who said they couldn’t vote for Michele Bachmann, even though they agreed with her, because she was a woman.”

A VIBRANT, BUSTLING, diverse city, Rangoon couldn’t possibly be more different from Naypyi­daw. We arrive at dusk and begin with a visit to the breathtaking Shweda­gon Pagoda, a 2,500-year-old Buddhist shrine. (Out of respect, we remove our shoes before entering, and the secretary’s toenails are revealed to be a sexy siren red.) After a quick change of clothes at her hotel, it’s time for her meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi at the home that would be the residence of the U.S. ambassador if we had one. The two women will be having a very private dinner together.

Later we learn that they talked for hours into the night and also exchanged gifts. Suu Kyi gave Clinton a spectacular silver necklace that she had designed for her. Clinton gave Suu Kyi a carefully selected trove of books and a chew toy for her dog.

The following morning they meet again, this time at Suu Kyi’s home in Rangoon—a place that for years was also her prison. When they finally come outside to speak to the press, the intensity of their bond is palpable, even before they hold hands, then put their arms around each other and hug. Three times. The cameras go wild. I take a look down the row of reporters sitting beside me. There is not a dry eye in the house.

About a month after the secretary’s visit, Thein Sein releases more political prisoners. It is enough of a step forward that Obama and Clinton decide to reinstall an ambassador in Burma. “I hope we started some momentum going,” Clinton tells me.

HILLARY CLINTON has made it clear that she has no intention of serving a second term should Obama be re-elected, saying she wants to get off “the high wire of American politics.” But while Clinton may be ready to go, not everyone is ready to let her. In January, New York Times columnist Bill Keller argued that she and Joe Biden should swap jobs. Despite firm, repeated denials from all concerned, the 2012 vice presidency rumor persists. This has a lot more to do with the celebrity of Hillary Clinton than with any sort of reality. She recently topped the Gallup Poll as the most admired woman in the world—for the 10th year in a row. Speculation about her future never fails to make great copy.

"I always find it kind of funny at the end of the year when that list pops up,” she says. “I don’t know. I think people have now watched me over 20 years and have maybe developed a broader understanding of who I really am as opposed to what somebody out in right field says I am.” (Yes, she did say “right” field.)

These days, even many of those in right field praise Clinton for the job she’s done over the past three years. I suggest that perhaps we won’t truly understand her legacy as secretary of state until, say, 10 years from now . . . when she is president.

Uhhh,” she responds, then laughs. It’s a don’t-even-go-there uhhh.

I tell her that a weird thing happened, at least among my own focus group of women friends over 40: Many were on the fence about her in the 2008 Democratic primary, but the minute she dropped out, there was a collective gasp, a sense of “Oh God, did we blow it?”

Originally published in the April 2012 issue

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