'Back up, you creep'

ANALYSIS: The one thing Hillary Clinton regrets not saying during the US presidential campaign. PLUS: four lessons from her latest book.

Several thousand people, mainly female, turned up last night to hear Hillary Clinton in her first appearance in New Zealand since losing the US presidential election to Republican Donald Trump in late 2016.

Some media have today criticised the fact the former first lady, New York senator, secretary of state and author, apparently had little to say and was only here to speak at a fairly pricey private event and promote her book on the election, What Happened.

Well, that is what she was here for, but it was never painted as anything else – she was here on the first leg of a New Zealand/Australia tour organised by Australian organisation The Growth Faculty to encourage other women to have a go at leadership roles and also to drum up book sales, no doubt.

Maybe I’m not cynical enough but I thought her experience and knowledge of world affairs were worth listening to. And in a country where we’re on to our third female prime minister, and a pregnant one to boot, we tend to forget the kind of sexism Mrs Clinton would have encountered as the first woman nominated for president by a major US political party.

Freed from the constraints of running for office, she is finally free to drop her guard, and seems to be enjoying the freedom to speak out. Writing this latest book – the sixth one she has penned – was “cathartic and sometimes painful but ultimately reinvigorating,” she says.

She’s throwing her influence behind other female political candidates and for the Democrats to regain control of the US Senate and House of Representatives in the US midterm elections in November that come halfway through Trump’s term.

Asked by New Zealand’s first female prime minister, Dame Jenny Shipley, what the one thing in hindsight about the election she would do differently if she could go back, Ms Clinton mentioned a well-publicised incident included in her book. 

During the second of three televised debates during the election campaign Donald Trump began “stalking” his competitor on stage, she says. He was “invading my personal space, leering at me, making faces at me.” Although determined to maintain her composure, she thought “you know this is really weird and maybe I should just turn around and tell him ‘back up, you creep’."

Her audience backed her up on that one.

She didn’t do it – but says with high-stakes elections becoming more like entertainment and reality TV those running for office will need more skills to be able to deal with it. “That was one of those missed opportunities.”

The four lessons

She says there are four key lessons in the book that apply to everyone, not just Americans.

1. Get back up again
Everyone in life gets knocked down. What matters is whether you get back up and keep going, she says. After election day many people asked her: "How do you even get out of bed?" While admitting there were times she just wanted to pull the covers over her head, she instead spent time rejuvenating herself with family and friends and reading a lot of books, particularly mystery novels. “I like those because the bad guy usually gets it in the end,” she says. Not that she’s bitter or anything.

2. Sexism alive and well
The only way to get sexism out of politics is to get more women into politics, she says. In the US and other parts of the world research has shown the more professionally successful a man is, the more people like him while the opposite is true for women. In her breakfast meeting with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern she discussed, among other things, balancing motherhood with the job.

3. Watch out for the Chinese
The forces that were at work in the 2016 election in the US are still there, Mrs Clinton says, not only in her country but also around the world. Russian interference in the US election presents a clear danger to other democracies – “it is right out of Putin’s playbook,” she says. Russian agents used Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube and even Pinterest for targeted attack ads and negative stories, she says, that were intended to hurt her but, even more importantly, to create division within American society. The same tactics have been used by the Russians in other election campaigns in Europe, she says.

In Australia and New Zealand, experts are sounding the alarm about Chinese efforts to gain political power and influence policy decisions, she says. Clinton points to Professor Anne-Marie Brady from the University of Canterbury who late last year presented a paper to a conference in the United States titled Magic Weapons: China’s political influence activities under Xi Jinping. Professor Brady called for New Zealand to take the threat of China’s growing political influence in its affairs more seriously.

Mrs Clinton says Professor Brady has “rightly called this a new global battle and it’s just getting started and we have to take it seriously.

“We also have to pay attention to what’s happening now in China with President Xi’s decision to abolish term limits and consolidate power. The consequence of democratic backsliding in this region have enormous global significance,” she says.

Abolishing the presidential terms limits from the constitution, introduced during a number of liberal political reforms during the 1980s, potentially allows Xi Jinping to rule China indefinitely.

4. Alternative facts
There is no such thing as an alternative fact, she says. “The Russian disinformation campaign during the election was successful in part because America’s natural defences had been worn down over the years by powerful interests that had wanted to make it harder to distinguish between fact and fiction."

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