Author: By Matthew Less, Associated Press
The secretary of state bristled last night when ? as she heard it ? a
Congolese university student asked what her husband thought about an
international financial matter.
She hadn’t travelled to Africa to talk about her husband the ex-president. But
even there, she couldn’t escape his outsized shadow.
She abruptly reclaimed the stage for herself.
Clinton’s presence, so bold in her historic presidential candidacy against
Barack Obama, has sometimes been hard to see in the months she’s served as
the supposed face and voice of US foreign policy.
The president’s ambitious travels have overshadowed her, heavyweight special
envoys have been assigned to the world’s critical hotspots, Vice President
Joe Biden has taken on assignments abroad ? and then last week her husband
succeeded in a North Korean mission to free two journalists even as she
landed in Africa on a seven-nation trip.
“You want me to tell you what my husband thinks?” she asked incredulously when
the student raised a question about a multibillion-dollar Chinese loan offer
“If you want my opinion, I will tell you my opinion,” she said. “I am not
going to be channeling my husband.”
The moderator quickly moved on.
State Department officials said the student approached Clinton afterward and
told her he had meant to ask what Obama, not Bill Clinton, thought about the
Chinese loan. A senior Clinton aide said that Mrs. Clinton assured the
student not to worry about it.
The student’s question, according to the State Department translation, went
like this: “Thank you. Mrs. Clinton, weve all heard about the Chinese
contracts in this country. The interference is from the World Bank against
this contract. What does Mr. Clinton think through the mouth of Mrs. Clinton
and what does Mr. Mutombo think on this situation? Thank you very much.”
It was unclear whether the French-speaking student or translator had erred.
Either way, she was not pleased at the mention of her husband’s name.
The Clintons have always been a complicated couple. An accomplished lawyer and
politician in her own right, Hillary Rodham Clinton has struggled for
decades to balance her interests and ambitions against his. She has
supported his career while looking to blaze a trail of her own ? at times
proud of, and benefiting from, her husband’s accomplishments, and at other
times frustrated by his failings and his habit of overshadowing her, friends
The biggest controversy of Bill Clinton’s career ? an affair with a White
House intern that led to impeachment proceedings ? engendered rare sympathy
for his wife and helped her win a Senate seat. One of his biggest political
miscues ? injecting race into her South Carolina primary with Obama ? helped
seal her defeat in the 2008 Democratic primary.
Since his presidency, Bill Clinton has spoken out about international
financial and development aid to poor countries, one focus of his
foundation’s Clinton Global Initiative, making his opinion of interest
abroad. But the stage in Kinshasa was his wife’s, and she reacted instantly
to a suggestion that he shared it.
She had been sidelined for weeks after she fell on her way to the White House
in June and fractured her elbow, requiring surgery. Her aides acknowledged
her frustrations stemming from the injury, which made her miss out on going
to Russia with Obama and attending several European conferences.
But her aides and those in the White House have denied any rift or attempt to
After returning to action following her injury, Clinton made a round of TV
appearances and a rousing speech ? all in tune with Obama’s priorities, but
in her own voice.
She then resumed her frenetic pace, traveling to India and Thailand and then
Hours after she left Washington for Africa a week ago, news broke that Bill
Clinton had gone on a humanitarian mission to North Korea to win the release
of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, two television journalists who had been arrested
and sentenced to 12 years at hard labor.
She arrived in Kenya to find herself peppered with questions about his secret
Clinton quickly recovered her cool Monday and moved on to other subjects. Just
before the question that set off her anger, another student had asked if the
US and the West felt a need to apologize to the people of Congo for
colonialism and postcolonial interference.
That brought a pointed rebuttal as well.
“I cannot excuse the past and I will not try,” she said. “We can either think
about the past and be imprisoned by it or we can decide we’re going to have
a better future and work to make it.”
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