Hillary Clinton: The Case for the Village (Video)

May 24, 2014 Updated: May 24, 2014

As part of New America’s 10 Big Ideas Conference, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained why American communities, as much as rugged individualists and boot-strappers, have played a vital role in building the country. We’d be wise to recall this history, she suggests, as we create new policies today.


Well, I’m delighted to be here, and I want to thank Eric for the very kind words, but also for his generous contributions to this institution as well as everything that he does to support innovation and growth in our country.  And I want to thank my friend and former colleague, Anne-Marie Slaughter.  I am deeply grateful for all of her contributions, her intellectual fire power at the State Department.  She helped us put smart power into practice, including through her leadership of the first-ever comprehensive review of the State Department (inaudible) called the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, which provided a blueprint for 21st century statecraft. She’s now bringing that same imaginative, disciplined leadership to the New America Foundation.  And a focus on big ideas, on the intersection of policy and technology, is exactly where she has been and where this extraordinary foundation is headed.
I think New America is becoming an even more exciting and indispensable fixture in the policy landscape, so I’m delighted to be here in the midst of a conference whose program I read and admired, and I think it’s a great way to bring together people who are also thinking big, but doing so with their feet firmly planted in the reality of the times in which we are living.
Speaking of times, this is a particularly special one for me and my husband.  We are still reveling in the fact that we’re going to become grandparents, and I’ve already learned that when you’re about to become a parent for the first time, you can be a little terrified at the prospect and the responsibility. But becoming a grandparent for the first time?  Nothing buy joy and excitement.  (Laughter.)  Very little responsibility, so I’m especially looking forward to that.  My only regret is that my late mother won’t be here to meet her great-grandchild.  She would have been over the moon and filled with good advice, not only for the parents but for the grandparents.
I’ve been thinking a lot about her lately because Mother’s Day always prompts those memories.  They bring a fresh reminder of how much she gave to me and my brothers and so many others, and her commitment to social justice, which helped to mold and inspire me when I was growing up.  I think about the obstacles she overcame in what was a very difficult life.  By the age of 14, she was off on her own, working as a housekeeper and nanny.  Thankfully, the woman who hired her allowed her to take time during the middle of the day to try to complete high school.  And she always talked about the kindness that certain people showed to her during the course of what was a very difficult childhood that gave her the confidence to keep going forward, that really derived from a community that was caring and willing to support the weakest and the most marginalized among them.
And of course she and my father gave us a middle-class life, with opportunities she never could have imagined for herself, but which she always believed could be possible for her children.  And that was a great gift that I will be forever grateful for, and then Bill and I of course worked hard to pass on those values to our daughter, and it’s been a great reward to watch her grow into an accomplished, purposeful young woman.
I think about what it must have been like, though, to have very difficult circumstances during my mother’s life, but never losing faith or hope in how far her children and grandchildren eventually would go thanks to not just their hard work, but the country and society into which they would be born.
That’s really how America is supposed to work.  Each generation striving to create opportunity for the next, planting trees that we will not be sitting in the share of, but expecting others who will follow to be able to; not expecting to be handed anything on a silver platter, but believing that all of us would be given a fair shot at success if we were willing to do the work that was required.