NDTV Exclusive: Hillary Clinton On Election Defeat, Indian Women And Yoga

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  • Published On: September 21, 2017
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A very special interview with a multi-faceted world leader. A woman who, for the first time, became presidential nominee for the United States election, also an ex-Secretary of State - and she was ranked, at that time, as the most admired woman in the world - and of course a former First Lady. Hillary Clinton on her loss, Indian women shattering the glass ceiling in politics, on Trump's attacks, on sexism in America, on US immigration policy, on the future of the India-US relationship and her life after running for office.

Here's the full transcript of the interview:

NDTV: Welcome to this India exclusive, a very special interview with a multi-faceted world leader. A woman who, for the first time, became presidential nominee for the United States election, also an ex-Secretary of State-and she was ranked, at that time, as the most admired woman in the world - and of course a former First Lady. Joining me tonight: Hillary Rodham Clinton. Thank you very much for speaking to NDTV.

Hillary Rodham Clinton: It is a pleasure. Thank you for coming to talk with me.

NDTV: It's been less than a year since that election defeat and your book, "What Happened". Writing it must have been cathartic, in a sense, but responses to it have been interesting to say the least. We had President Trump saying well, Crooked Hillary is trying to blame everyone but herself, Bernie Sanders saying it's time to move forward and also the huge lines at the book signings, the numbers that have just come in on the sales. So very interesting, different responses - in some sense a re-run of the election campaign, some would say. How do you react to that?

Hillary Rodham Clinton: I think it's interesting because the book is selling extremely well in the United States and it is attempt, on my part, to be both personal and political, to write a history as seen through my eyes of what happened in the campaign. Now, clearly, my opponents aren't going to agree with what I say happened, but I think that there are lessons to be learned for democracies, not just our own. That's why I'm so happy talking to you because I think India has a tremendous role to play in maintaining the vitality of democracy in the next hundred years.

NDTV: Do you accept that criticism, that you haven't taken enough of the blame on yourself? Again that's something that came up in the campaign, that "oh Hillary tries to blame other people and not herself". Do you accept this criticism regarding you and Bernie Sanders?

Hillary Rodham Clinton: No, I don't. I mean, I beat him by four million votes so I don't accept that criticism from former political opponents. I try to be candid and open in the book about what I did wrong, what responsibility I feel about it, but it was also important to talk about all these factors that were happening at the same time. It was like the perfect storm. You had sexism and misogyny; you had voter suppression which, in our country, is a real and growing problem; you had the interference of the Russians; you had the manipulation of social media, the phenomenon of fake news. So I just feel like I am taking responsibility but I wrote this book in part so that what happened doesn't happen again.

NDTV: Of course, your election was watched all over the world, you had women around the world rooting for you. In India many couldn't understand, because in India we've been very comfortable with women in political power, we've had a Prime Minister, head of a political party, many senior ministers and popular chief ministers are women, it hasn't been an issue. Why is it that in America of the 21st Century - you've written in your book about sexism and misogyny - how do you explain the fact that even in white women, you didn't win the majority vote?

Hillary Rodham Clinton: Well I think gender in our political system has not been the motivator that race was, for example, in President Obama's elections. I won the vote of a majority of women but not of white women and part of that is their party affiliation, predominantly Republican, although I got more white women to vote for me than President Obama did in 2012. So it's a very complicated situation but I would say this: you have a parliamentary system and I write in the book that I do believe it is somewhat easier for a woman to rise in a parliamentary system. Think about the women who broke through: Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel. The majority of women who become head of government come out of a parliamentary system. Our system, you have one person as head of state, head of government and you don't have the strong party basis that helps to select candidates to run for constituencies across the country. So you really start from the very bottom, no matter who you are, no matter what your record has been. You start and you have to raise all the money yourself, you have to run the gauntlet of a very tough political system. I was really honoured to be the first woman nominated by one of our two major parties, but I think that it is harder for a woman to rise in that system compared to a parliamentary system.

NDTV: But what's common, I think, for women politicians around the world, we saw what President Trump tweeted, the meme of you getting hit by a golf-ball and actually falling down. That in a sense is almost like a physical assault being tweeted by the President. You've written in your book about the second debate just a few days after that sexual assault came out, on how you felt almost invaded and how part of you wanted to say "back up, get away from me", but you didn't. Why does a woman in a position as powerful as yours feel the need to suppress that?

Hillary Rodham Clinton: It's a very good question and it's one I've thought a lot about, because I think that when you are a woman in a very high political position, you know things that you have learned over the course of your life. You know that anger coming from a woman is not accepted as much as anger coming from a man. A man can rant and rail and wave his arms and carry on and it's somehow viewed as acceptable. The margins for women are much narrower. So I try to pull the curtain back and invite the reader into thinking about that with me. I really believed, and most women I know in public life have lived this, where you master your emotions, you become calm and composed because you don't want to give any basis for the kind of sexist attacks that will come; "angry" or "weak" or whatever it might be. But when you think about it, it is not just about women in politics, it's women in business, in media - you know, you've been a professional. And I was trying to argue that you have to accept the double standard, it exists, and overcome it by supporting women and fighting back. I happened to run against an incredibly, overtly sexist candidate. Trump delighted in insulting women, in trying to dominate women. Everything he said, starting in the primary with the Republicans going into the general election. And I made a very conscious decision to try and maintain my composure, to maintain my maturity, if you will, because I thought at the end of the day more people would vote for that than would vote for the kind of unpredictable behaviour. Now, in fact, more people did vote it, if I'd been running anywhere else in the world I would have won. But it just showed you how difficult it was to try and stay within the arena while you're getting attacked and it doesn't stop. You referenced his recent retweet of a meme showing a golf-ball hitting me in the back and all of that. I mean, why is this happening? Why does someone who's in the most powerful position in the world still feel so insecure that he does that? And that's what frightened me about his candidacy, that's what I tried to warn about. That he was temperamentally not equipped to be President, he didn't have the experience, he didn't have the understanding to be President.

NDTV: One other aspect which I think India and the US perhaps have in common, in India a big focus of political discussion is about dynasty politics and of course in America, it's been referred to as the Bush-Clinton era, the fact that perhaps it could've been a Bush vs Clinton race in the last election before Donald Trump and the fact that critics would say this is too much about the House of Clinton, perhaps we shouldn't have had another Clinton in the race this time. Now perhaps Chelsea may be the next Clinton to run for office. Do you think dynasty is an issue that people have criticised you about, do you take that criticism seriously?

Hillary Rodham Clinton: I really don't and my daughter has absolutely no interest that she's ever expressed about running for office herself. You know anyone can get in and run, I mean that's both the opportunity and the downside about being in politics in the United States: we don't have parties like you do that are much more controlling about who runs and how they are supported or not. So in our system, anybody can run for President. You had 16 people on the Republican side, some of them had famous names, some of them had come from nowhere. Whatever the combination might be. On our side we started off with five candidates, then we went to two and then I very conclusively won. The answer is don't vote for somebody. If you're worried about that don't vote but I was a revolutionary candidate as the first woman with a serious chance to be elected President and I brought my whole experience with me, my own service in the Senate, my own service appointed by President Obama in the Secretary of State office, my long commitment to women's rights and all that I've done. So if people liked that, they could vote for it. If they didn't, they wouldn't; but I would've thought that my experience - including my years as first lady with my husband's presidency - would be a big advantage. And it would have been; had I been elected I would have been ready and able to start moving quickly.

NDTV: In fact, President Obama said in that speech that you are the best qualified to be President of all of them. I remember your husband standing up and clapping when he said that

Hillary Rodham Clinton: Yes he did!

NDTV: It was interesting also, in your book, when you wrote about the kind of reactions you faced, polarising in some sense. Where people said your marriage was an arrangement, you talked about how difficult it was to have your worst moments in the public and again President Trump in that second debate actually had women who had made allegations against your husband out there in the audience. Did it help to be Mrs. Bill Clinton or Hillary Rodham Clinton in this election or do you think perhaps people thought "why have two Clintons in the White House"?

Hillary Rodham Clinton: Well I'm sure some people thought that, people are free to think whatever they wish to think. It never presented itself as a big problem. I was running as Hillary Rodham Clinton. Of course I'm married, of course I'm a mother. I'm a grandmother, I'm a lawyer, I'm a former elected official, I am a cabinet member. I was presenting my entire self for the voters to decide whether or not to support me. Now were there people who disagreed on trade or something else and said "okay I'm not going to vote for his wife"? Probably, I don't know. But were there people who said "I really liked the economy under Bill Clinton it really produced a lot of jobs and helped a lot of people, I'm going to vote for her"? Probably. But at the end of the day it was about me. I was the candidate, my name was on the ballot and it's one of the reasons I take losing so personally, because I think I would have been a good President and I regret that there were lots of forces in this perfect storm that prevented that from happening.

NDTV: What's interesting with President Trump is that many have accused him of running it as a family business and there's been all this. In fact, Ivanka Trump just met our Foreign Affairs Minister a few days ago at the UN and she's coming to India on the invitation of the government as a representative. We've also got that whole issue of when Ivanka Trump sat in on a meeting of G20 leaders and when there was criticism President Trump said, "well if Hillary had done this with Chelsea no one would have complained". So he always brings this out when issues come up about his family's involvement, Jared Kushner etc., he always tries to draw a parallel. How would you react?

Hillary Rodham Clinton: Well there's no basis for it. I know he does it, he does it all the time, he seems to be spending more time thinking about me and my family than thinking about the work he should be doing as our President. But that would have never happened. Neither I nor my husband would have ever thought about bypassing officials with deep experience for our child. In fact, I think it's very telling to hear that from Trump. In part because he has not staffed the government. Hundreds of positions are unfilled, people with expertise are ignored. Yes, he relies on a small circle of people who do not have the collective experience of professionals both in the government and elsewhere so it's an absurd claim and I think it goes to how insulated he is and how he doesn't trust anybody except a couple of people who happen to be related to him.

NDTV: It's interesting this whole focus on the first daughter because of course we've had great first ladies: you, of course, Michelle Obama and now Melania Trump seems in a sense to not have found her niche or her voice at all, so far, in the White House. Any advice for her? Or do you have any thoughts on how Melania Trump is doing?

Hillary Rodham Clinton: I think it's up to each woman who finds herself in that position to decide what is the role.

NDTV: Because it's a very powerful position.

Hillary Rodham Clinton: Well, it is but I don't think there's any set requirements. People define it as they choose so I will let her work to figure that out. I'm more concerned about the people that are advising President Trump directly, the people in the White House, the people in the cabinet. You've already seen a number of people forced out because of their failing to report contact with the Russians, because of other things that they've done that violate ethical standards. So I think we should stay focus, in this particular case, since there is no other project or program that she's involved in, we should keep focused on the President and the people that he listens to, both in the White House and outside, because they're the ones that are helping to determine what he does here at home and around the world.

NDTV: Just shifting focus to the whole India-Pakistan question as well, of course that's of huge interest to us, I remember as Secretary of State when you famously said, "well Pakistan can't have snakes in its own backyard and think that they're only going to bite its neighbours" and I think perhaps we've seen the truth of that. But in a sense, many in India actually feel that President Trump has gone further by calling out Pakistan recently about being a safe haven for terrorists or in his Afghanistan policy, dehyphenating India and Pakistan in a sense. Do you think the Trump administration has actually done more against Pakistan-based terror than the Obama administration did?

Hillary Rodham Clinton: Oh I don't know how you can say that. Certainly at this point, they haven't really done anything except say some things and make up policy to send more American troops to Afghanistan with no strategy. So I think that we were very clear when I was Secretary of State, as you well remember, speaking out against Pakistan, going in and killing Osama bin Laden inside Pakistan, making it clear that there were too many safe havens for terrorists across the border. I mean I had many stand-offs with the Pakistani government over their behaviour. So you can't count on what Trump says, you have to see what he does and right now he's not doing anything. He's talking a lot about all kinds of problems without any real back-up or deep understanding of the complexity of what it is he's talking about. His UN speech, I thought, was dangerous, dark, divisive it was not worthy of a President of the United States, it's as though he's almost looking for a nuclear crisis in two different places, on two different continents - with North Korea and Iran. It's hard to understand what he is really believing in and trying to do because he is often contradictory and even incoherent. So I think India should count on a strong relationship with the United States that predates him and hopefully will postdate him where we continue to deepen and strengthen our ties, government to government, people to people, industry to industry and know that the United States supports the world's biggest democracy and I think that that has to be the constant in the relationship, no matter who's in the oval office.

NDTV: In fact, interestingly, in the Indian American community, such a vibrant one that contributes a lot to the US economy, but this whole standoff that there has been about H1B visas, etc. and then candidate Donald Trump talked a lot about this issue of the worry and the fear of all jobs going to India and China. How justified that was today and do you think his whole America First policy has actually lived up to expectations ever since?

Hillary Rodham Clinton: Well again it's too soon to tell. He's banned Muslims from six countries, ignoring countries that have actually attacked us or supplied fighters to attack us, he has talked a lot about immigration and he's made it clear that he wants to limit immigration of all kinds yet he also seeks visas for people to come work at Mar a Lago, his home in Florida. So who can make sense of this and I think that everybody understands that given the campaign that he ran, there would have to be some adjustments made to the immigration policy. It is my strong hope that it is not done in a way that shuts the door on talent that prevents us from getting the best of people, professionals and workers of all kinds coming to our country. Immigration has been good for America. Immigrants give much more money to our government than they take at all, it's a very clear balance in favour of immigration. So if you look at the facts, the way that he acts and behaves has no basis, but he didn't win based on facts. He won on stoking anger and fear, pointing fingers, scapegoating people. So I'm hoping that cooler heads prevail and people will get back to understanding, yes, you've got to do everything you can to promote jobs and raise incomes here at home but immigrants actually contribute to that. Immigrants start more jobs than native Americans, end up employing so many people - so let's get back to looking at the evidence not just the rhetoric.

NDTV: You talked about evidence and of course after the election campaign and after the result, more evidence seems to be coming out of possible Russian collusion in what happened in this election. There's an FBI committee looking into it but in an interview with NPR recently you said that you would even consider challenging the result if more concrete evidence emerges. Is that something you mean seriously? Is that something that goes with the kind of tradition we've had in democracies of moving on in a sense or just accepting the result? Would it be a challenge to democracy if you challenged the result?

Hillary Rodham Clinton: That's not what I said. Neither I nor anyone who understands our law and our constitution is urging any contest to the election, that is over. But as we learn more about the role the Russians played, there are questions that should be raised about the legitimacy of the election. I personally think that what we're finding out about how the Russians paid in rubles for ads on Facebook, how they weaponised information, how they sent fake Americans who were Russians to foment discord and demonstrations, how they had a thousand Russian agents, tens of thousands of bots; they were trying to get Donald Trump elected. So those raise legitimate questions about the role that Russia played. Now I'm not going to say what will be proven by these investigations in terms of any cooperation, coordination between Russians and people associated with the Trump campaign but even if none of that is ever proved, we know for a fact that they were influencing the election and they were trying to elect a candidate. No foreign government should be able to do that. I mean, imagine how you would feel if China were trying to influence the election in India, if a foreign government was hacking into government emails and into your voting system, which is one of the best in the world. You would not tolerate that. If I had been elected President and I learned that Russia had been involved, I would have launched an immediate investigation, as serious as any we've ever encountered because we may have won the Cold War but we're losing the Cyber War: our very democracy is under attack. So I think this raises really legitimate concerns that have to be addressed. Right now we have a President and a Congress who are doing little to nothing to try and address that and I think that is a grave error because they may have been trying to hurt me this time, they'll try to hurt someone else, including Republicans next time if it suits their agenda.

NDTV: I can see how passionately you still feel about it and reading the book it was interesting (to see) the different phases you went through, the times you said you wanted to scream at the TV, you wanted to throw a remote and of course when you did yoga! Now for all Indians, that sounds fantastic - tell us about the shouting and screaming but the yoga as well.

Hillary Rodham Clinton: (laughs) Well, I really appreciate yoga a lot. I try and keep up practice during the campaign. I'm not good at it - I don't want anybody to get the wrong impression but I found it very relaxing and the breath work - I talk about alternate-nostril breathing - was incredibly calming to me and I wanted to pull the curtain back and share a lot of the personal aspects of my life, of running for President and that was part of what I did to try and keep myself centered during the campaign.

NDTV: You can do alternate-nostril breathing? We'd love to see it!

Hillary Rodham Clinton: (laughs) I'll let your viewers Google it and they can watch it.

NDTV: What next for Hillary Clinton because I think you've said that it's not about you fading away silently - what next for Hillary Clinton?

Hillary Rodham Clinton: I'm going to continue to speak out, speak up, I will remain active in politics, I will support causes and candidates I care about, I will do some more writing, I will do some work with non-profit groups, particularly those that are involved in children and women's issues. I'll probably work with some universities on different things. I've started a new group called Onward Together to support a lot of these new, young, grass-root groups trying to recruit candidates and help them win. So I expect to be very much involved publicly and will get to spend more time with my family and my friends - particularly with my grandchildren - which is an extra added benefit.

NDTV: Despite how many feathers that may ruffle, because when you say active in politics you already hear speculation that Hillary Clinton is going to run for mayor, will she look at governor next? What do you mean active in politics?

Hillary Rodham Clinton: No, I am not going to be candidate but I am going to be active in politics. I was active in politics before I became a candidate myself in 2000. So that's why I've set up this other new group, to be able to do just that. To help candidates and people working with candidates to have the benefit of my experience and my support. So I will remain involved. Those who are wishing my departure will be sorely disappointed.

NDTV: You said Chelsea's never expressed any interest in standing for public office, would you like to see her actually enter public office or enter politics?

Hillary Rodham Clinton: No, I am very proud of my daughter. She is a professor, she's a writer, she's active with the Clinton Foundation, she's a great mom. I want her to do whatever makes her happy and fulfilled. I have a lot of young women though who come up to me and ask for advice and that's one of the ways I'll remain active. I will give advice; I will give support. If I have some lessons to impart, some of them in that book, I hope it will help others because I want to see more women in American politics.

NDTV: As we end this interview, Secretary Clinton, what's the one thing that you regret doing and what's the one lesson perhaps you've learned to never do again and what's the one thing you want to keep doing again and again?

Hillary Rodham Clinton: Well look I think I lost the election in the end because of the FBI Director's intervention so if I had never used the particular email set-up I had despite it being legal and all the rest of it, I wouldn't have ended up in that position. It was a dumb mistake, it was a dumber scandal and it cost me the election so if I could turn the clock back I would certainly not do that again. I think that there's much to be learned though from my experience about how to deal with the rigours and the pressures of being in public life. I ran because I thought I'd be a good President and because I thought I could really make a difference, to help people. I will never give up on that. I will keep doing that, for as long as I am able because that's what I did originally before I was ever in politics, before my husband was ever President and it's what I will keep doing.

NDTV: And to all the viewers who are watching this in India, what would you say? And to young women across the globe - because this wasn't just about America - who were watching you, who were rooting for you, what would you say to them?

Hillary Rodham Clinton: Don't be discouraged by setbacks, either personal or more broadly. There is a backlash going on against women's progress. Some of it is primitive, medieval, what we see from terrorists, for example. Some of it is more subtle: coming up with all kinds of criticism and complaints about women, demeaning women, acting as though women don't have a right to be engineers in Silicon Valley or sports-broadcasters in American media or President of the United States. Do not get discouraged, work to be prepared and ready. If you go into politics, or any career in the public arena, even in the media, you know you have to grow the hide of a rhinoceros, as I quote my predecessor, Eleanor Roosevelt. And you need to support each other. I've been supported by a wonderful group of friends my entire adult life and that's what really matters. They share my joys, they share my sorrows, they are with me and so understand that life is not just about the public part of your experience: it's about your personal, and do your best to integrate the two, but don't give up in the face of sexism, misogyny and prejudice. Stand up and speak out.

NDTV: A message that resonates across the world, Secretary Clinton, thank you for speaking with NDTV.

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