Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
By Jon Campbell, Gannett
CLINTON, N.Y. - Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decried the "sorry state of our own politics" during a speech at an Upstate New York college on Friday, recalling her husband's experiences with the last government shutdown while knocking the partisanship that led to the current one.
"It is hard to recall in our own lifetimes a previous time when politicians were willing to risk so much damage to the country to pursue their own agendas," Clinton said at Hamilton College in rural Oneida County.
Clinton spoke in front of a capacity crowd of about 5,800 packed into wooden bleachers and plastic folding chairs in a field house at the college, a small, liberal-arts school with an enrollment of about 1,800.
After opening with kind words about the school and recognizing specific students for their work, Clinton quickly shifted to the "gridlock" and "brinkmanship" that has led to the federal shutdown, which carried into its fourth day Friday.
Without casting blame on anyone in particular, Clinton said the shutdown has the potential to hurt the country's reputation among foreign nations.
"When we fail to make progress on the challenges that face the country, our standing in the world suffers," Clinton said.
Clinton touched on everything from the global economy to the difficulties of being a female politician during the 80-minute speech and moderated discussion at the college.
She was not asked directly about her own presidential aspirations while taking pre-selected questions from school President Joan Stewart, but was quizzed about her unsuccessful attempt to capture the Democratic nomination in 2008. Numerous polls have shown Clinton would be the front-runner in a potential 2016 primary if she were to enter the race.
"The people I know who have run successfully for president -- because a lot of us have run unsuccessfully -- the ones I personally know believed they had something unique to offer the country," said Clinton, who was first lady for President Bill Clinton's two terms. "They believed they were up to the job. They believed that they could govern once they won. Now, that sounds pretty simplistic, but some people run for president and they don't think through what they would do if they won."
Clinton spoke fondly of the Mohawk Valley and Upstate New York. She represented New York as a senator from 2001 through 2008 before she was tapped for the State Department by President Barack Obama.
"I would tell everyone who would listen to me that Upstate New York is a land of treasures," Clinton said of her time in the Senate. "History is everywhere. What built this country and made it the land of opportunity for so many really started here."
It was a busy speaking day for the Clintons, with former President Bill Clinton scheduled Friday to deliver the keynote address at an energy conference hosted by the Omega Center for Sustainable Living in Rhinebeck, N.Y.
Earlier in the day, Hillary Clinton spoke in Nassau County at a private luncheon hosted by the Long Island Association, a business group.
Clinton's Hamilton speech came during a period of turmoil not only in Washington, but abroad.
When asked about the political uprisings in Africa and the Middle East known as the Arab Spring, Clinton said she believes it is just beginning.
"We are not at all sure what the outcome will be of these tumultuous changes across North Africa and the Middle East," said Clinton, who was secretary of state during Obama's first term. "And I believe that it will continue to be a struggle to create a social contract in the Arab Spring countries that is inclusive but which is collaborative and moving toward democracy."
Clinton's appearance was part of Hamilton's "Sacerdote Great Names Series," which featured a speech from her husband in 2004.
In introducing Clinton to the crowd, Stewart noted the series had previously hosted three other secretaries of state: Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell.
"Never yet a future president, but there's a first time for everything," Stewart said to loud applause."
Campbell reports for Gannett's Albany (N.Y.) bureau