Tufts University

Views From The Hill

Sen. Hillary ClintonOn November 10, the Tufts community turned out in record-high numbers to hear Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton deliver the 2004 Issam M. Fares Lecture. One thing all the attendees had in common? An interest in hearing what the senator and former first lady had to say on issues both international and domestic.

When New York’s junior Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton took to the podium on November 10 to deliver the 2004 Issam M. Fares Lecture, she faced a crowd of students, faculty and dignitaries with varied - but invariably great - expectations.

More than 5,100 members of the Tufts community filled the Gantcher Family Sports and Convocation Center to hear Clinton’s thoughts on the Eastern Mediterranean policy challenges facing the United States in the wake of this month’s presidential election.

"It’s important to hear a woman’s perspective on politics in the Middle East - now, on either side, almost no women are talking about it," said graduate student Tiffany Magnolia.

"It’s good to hear Senator Clinton’s perspective on Middle East issues at a time like this," agreed Dining Services’ Yanick St. Pierre, adding, "I’ve always been interested in politics and like to follow them."

So has Ashley Corrado, a high school senior who attended the lecture with her mother Pam, an administrative coordinator in the geriatrics department of Tufts School of Dental Medicine.

"My daughter Ashley was dying to come here - Hillary is a real role model for her," the elder Corrado said. "It’s her 18th birthday, so this is a real treat for her. She plans on being governor and then president!"

The political ambitions of a different female, however, were on the audience’s collective mind. "This is a speaker with political aspirations far bigger than where she is right now," said junior Jesse Manuel, an economics major. "I want to see her now so that I can say, ‘I saw her then!’"

"If she’s running for president in 2008, I want to hear what she stands for: campaigning starts as soon as one election ends," sophomore and sociology major Karen Biedermann said.

"I’d like to hear what she thinks the Democrats should do now to formulate a plan for 2008 to win not just the presidency, but the majority of the House and the Senate," said Linda Deprez, who attended the lecture along with her daughter Jennifer, a Tufts freshman.

"I’m a political science major, so it will be interesting for me to see what she says," sophomore Michael McGeary added. "It will be a taste of what might be to come on the stump!"

But Clinton’s speech - delivered several hours before the announcement of Palestinian Prime Minister Yassar Arafat’s death -- was more about solving problems than stumping.

The former first lady’s lecture was preceded by opening remarks from Tufts President Laurence S. Bacow, director of Tufts' Fares Center for Middle Eastern Studies Leila Fawaz, and the Deputy Prime Minister of Lebanon Issam M. Fares, who said "ties that were once strong between the U.S. and Arab countries are now very much in doubt - it is our duty to sound the alarm."

Sen. Hillary Clinton

Now we may be at a unique historical moment in the Middle East. And as with every moment before, America’s relationship to the governments and people of the Middle East, to their aspirations, to the challenges they confront, will be critical not only to the future there, but the future here as well. Now, more than ever, we need top quality research and analysis, as well as clear-minded strategic thinking.

"Sounding the alarm" and working towards peace is the goal of Tufts’ Fares Center, Fawaz said. "[The Fares Center] is about internationalism understood as a two-way street," she told the audience. "To learn, we have to listen: that is the way to dialogue, and eventually acceptance."

After being introduced by Bacow, who noted that Clinton’s appearance "could not come at a more interesting time," the former first lady offered what she termed "some free, unsolicited advice to the current administration," encouraging the U.S. to become more engaged in "a unique historical moment in the Middle East."

"Simply put, none of us is a bystander," Clinton said of the U.S.’s role in shaping the future of the Middle East. "It’s fair to say that our fates are inextricably bound together."

"We’re approaching the end of the Arafat era, and we hope and pray it’s a peaceful, nonviolent transition," said Clinton. "Now is the time for the president to become engaged, and the probable passing of Mr. Arafat provides an opportunity to do so," she said, adding that for negotiations to be successful, "neighbors in the region must be brought to the table as well."

Clinton recommended that one particularly controversial neighbor, Turkey, be brought to the table. "We should encourage the Europeans to invite, at some point in the future, Turkey to be part of discussions concerning entry into the European Union," she said. "The fact that Turkey is applying for membership in the European Union while currently being led by an Islamic party is an extraordinary development. If Turkey were to be rejected, that could be seen as an insult to Muslims everywhere, and it would be just one more excuse that Islamic extremists might use in their global recruitment drive."

Clinton, who described the presence of oil in the Middle East as "both a blessing and a curse," also addressed the situation in Iraq, calling for the U.S to "do everything possible to create enough safety for general elections in January -- genuine elections that put into place an Iraqi government that will have legitimacy, that in turn can help to create long term stability."

"It is condescending and just plain wrong to suggest that certain people are not ready to be free or cannot adjust to a democratic way of life," she said, adding that the U.S. troops in Iraq "are extraordinary, exemplary young Americans - we owe it to them to pursue a policy that will be successful."

Successful policies in the Middle East require the extension of rights to women, said Clinton, who spoke out against the mistreatment of women by the Taliban in the 1990s. "Women’s rights are human rights," she said to resounding applause.

Clinton thanked Tufts for "its commitment to internationalism and its willingness to take on an honest dialogue about the very difficult issues that confront the people of the Middle East as well as our own country."

The latter issues, which Clinton addressed in the question and answer session following her lecture, particularly resonated with those members of the audience who - like Clinton herself - would have preferred a different outcome to the presidential election that took place a week and a day earlier. ("I must confess that I wish I was here speaking about President Kerry’s foreign policy," the senator said early in her speech.)

Despite her disagreement with the Bush administration’s policies - particularly its health care plans - Clinton largely encouraged engagement and dialogue with its supporters, echoing Fawaz’s assertion that learning requires listening.

"I don’t think you can win an election if you don’t ask what is important to people - being ignored is such a sign of disrespect," Clinton said in response to a question about the role wedge issues and moral values played in President Bush’s reelection. "We owe everyone the courtesy and respect of taking what they think seriously."

Clinton’s advice on bridging the blue-red gap intrigued international relations major Juliana Zapata, a senior. "I was very interested in what she said about us having to see and respect the full spectrum of people’s political views - that people aren’t just split into two sides, one and the other," Zapata said. "That approach is also relevant to international issues."

Overall, attendees responded to Clinton’s lecture with a mix of awe and respect.

"I’m extremely impressed - she attacked the issues really well, and talked about a lot of real things," said senior and archeology major Leslie Reeder. "She was not afraid to be partisan and express her real feelings, particularly on immediate issues like not leaving Iraq."

"I was glad to hear her talk about including Turkey in terms of the EU," said Fletcher student In Song Kim. "That’s something that’s important to discuss."

"She spoke very well," said senior and electrical engineer Sameer Puri. "I liked that she spoke about things she’s highly qualified to speak about, like women’s rights and health care."

"She’s a great role model for women, and she really speaks to the female generation on campus," said sophomore Tamara Chao.

It wasn’t just females who emerged from the lecture impressed, however.

"She’s one of the most well-respected politicians in the country," said junior and Spanish major Vijay Nathan. "She’s very influential, and she brought pride to the office of first lady. She wasn’t just ‘a wife.’ And the fact that she’s the only first lady to go on to become a senator is pretty impressive, too."

Profile written by Patrice Taddonio, Class of 2006

Patrice Taddonio, a native of Holland, Pennsylvania, is an English major and a communications and media studies minor. Currently the Tufts Daily's head features editor, she interned with the Improper Bostonian magazine during her sophomore year, and worked as a temporary text editor with the Associated Press at this July's Democratic National Convention. A member of the Class of 2006 and a songwriter, Taddonio has also performed on guitar and vocals at on-campus venues and at Boston-area benefits.

Photos by Matt Edmundson.

This story originally ran on Nov. 15, 2004