By Marc Caputo
The Miami Herald
---- — MIAMI — Hillary Rodham Clinton slipped into Miami Thursday for a speech to a travel agents’ convention in which the former secretary of state said little about troubles abroad or her future ambitions.
When the event moderator asked what it would take for the United States to elect its first female leader, Clinton was quick with a joke.
“Well, it’ll take a crazy person,” she said to laughs from the crowd at the American Society of Travel Agents’ global convention.
“I hope we break that final glass ceiling,” she said, adding nothing about her plans.
Though ostensibly not political, Clinton’s address had the makings of an introductory campaign speech, replete with personal anecdotes, stories of world leaders and veiled warnings about the dangers of partisanship and the fragility of American democracy.
“Compromise is not a dirty word,” she said. “Compromise is only a dirty word if you think you own all the truth. And that’s what I see in countries where people are punished and marginalized because of their race or their ethnicity or their tribe or their religion.”
Clinton made the comments in recalling the deals her husband, President Bill Clinton, struck with Republicans to balance the budget and approve welfare reform — a sharp contrast to the looming fiscal fights between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans that could lead to a government shutdown for the first time since Clinton’s White House days.
Clinton’s speech was tightly stage-managed.
At one point, a member of the audience, Andrew Rothberg, had his smartphone taken from him by security, which removed his picture of Clinton onstage and then gave his device back in front of a Miami Herald reporter in the auditorium stands.
“It’s crazy,” Rothberg said.
“That’s American politics,” said a docent, one of a handful of hotel security and volunteers who roamed the aisles looking for people taking pictures or making recordings. None was allowed.
“I wanted to take pictures for my girls; I have four girls,” Rothberg, who was writing a piece about the conference for Boca Raton-based Grey Matters Magazine, told the Miami Herald. “I think Hillary Clinton, who is probably running for president in 2016, would want all the publicity she could get and I think it’s kind of ironic they would take the camera away.”
Clinton’s speech came a day after congressional Republicans led another hearing into the attack in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012. They faulted her and the administration’s preparations and response. Four Americans were killed in the attack, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Many members of House Foreign Affairs Committee felt the Obama administration did little to prepare for an attack, not enough to respond and nothing significant by failing to fire or even cut the pay of anyone associated with the failures.
“It is, indeed, pathetic that still no one has been held accountable for the disastrous decisions that were made at the State Department before, during, and after this terrorist attack,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., said during the hearing. “State continues to merely shuffle the deck chairs and employ officials who were part of the management deficiencies and systematic failures that were tragically made.”
Democrats have called the criticisms a partisan show, noting that at least 13 U.S. embassies and consulates were attacked during President George W. Bush’s term, leading to the loss of at least 96 lives, at least 10 of whom were American.
The Benghazi drumbeat, though, hasn’t hurt Clinton’s early poll numbers, which show she’s a front-runner nationwide and in must-win Florida. Polls indicate she’d even best Sen. Marco Rubio and former Gov. Jeb Bush in the Republicans’ home state.
Clinton said nothing about Benghazi or Syria’s civil war and chemical weapons.
Clinton’s speech to the travel agents was tailored to them. She stressed the importance of travel — name-dropping countries like Togo and sharing personal anecdotes about Nelson Mandela or generals from Burma who told her they were learning about democracy from watching “The West Wing,” which aired from 1999-2006.
Clinton, though, credits the country’s move away from a dictatorship to the fact that its generals went abroad and saw the rest of the world. “I am convinced that travel helped change minds in the military dictatorship of Burma,” she said.
She also fondly recalled the first time she met and traveled with Bill Clinton, whom she described as “this long-haired guy I was dating at the time” in 1973.
And Clinton fretted about the future and current state of the United States.
“The confidence of Americans in most of our important institutions has fallen to historic lows,” she said. “Americans have lost faith in the press, churches, banks, sports heroes, you name it. … Majorities across all partisan and demographic groups certainly express little or no trust in government at any level.”