‘Core imperative’: Hillary Clinton, back on home turf

Hillary Clinton on stage with Tina Brown. (Reid Pillifant)
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Hillary Clinton took the stage at Lincoln Center this morning, in front of a crowd whose rousing reception made it clear that they would like to see more of her in the future.

"The big question about Hillary now is: What's next?" said Tina Brown, the editor of the Daily Beast and founder of the Women in the World Summit, who walked out with Clinton and introduced her in her first big public appearance in New York since making way for John Kerry as secretary of state.

Clinton laughed, which is generally what she does when faced with a question she has no intention of answering on anyone else's timeline.

Earlier, the theater's security guards had had a difficult time keeping the Hillary-mania at bay, pinning hundreds of eager guests in the theater's lobby until a half-hour before the speech.

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"I feel like I'm going to get trampled," said one woman in the lobby.

Even Sir Harold Evans had trouble getting through the packed crowd to his seat. 

"This is Tina Brown's husband," said a summit employee as she tried to guide him through the tangled crowd. 

When Clinton made a cameo in the introductory video—"Women's progress is human progress," she said—the audience of about 2,000 let out another big cheer.

And then, apparently deviating from the scripted procession, Clinton suggested she walk out with Brown, smiling a few feet from the podium in a fuschia tailored jacket and black pants, while Brown extolled her activism all the way back to her controversial White House days.

Brown said Clinton "even won praise from Jesse Helms, one of the finest minds of the 12th century."

Clinton thanked the crowd and said she saw some recognizable faces in the crowd, before beginning a 28-minute speech that focused on the challenges facing women across the world, and at home.

Clinton said "too many otherwise thoughtful people still see fortunes of women and girls as somehow separate from society at large," then "relegate these issues to the sidelines."

"I have seen it over and over again," she said. "I have been kidded about it, I have been ribbed, I have been challenged in board rooms and official offices across the world. But fighting to give women and girls a fighting chance isn't a nice thing to do. It isn't some luxury that we get to, when we have time on our hands to spend doing that. This is a core imperative for every human being and every society."

Clinton said it is "no coincidence that so many of the countries that threaten regional and global peace are the very places where women are deprived of dignity and opportunity."

She challenged the audience to "recognize that much of our advocacy is still rooted in a 20th century, top-down frame," and mentioned the power of new platforms like Twitter and Tumblr (even though she has yet to establish a personal presence on either one).

Clinton applauded Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, who became the first woman president in Africa in 2006, but, not surprisingly, didn't offer any direct hints about her own presidential prospects, even when she turned her attention to the "unfinished business we face here at home.

Clinton said the decline in women's life span in the U.S. was "a historical reversal that rivals the disintegration of Russian men after the fall of the Soviet Union," and called for equal pay for women and the extension of family and medical leave benefits.

She said the U.S. needs to "stand by" the women of Afghanistan even as combat troops leave the country, and called for the ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Before ending with her signature "human rights are women's rights" line, Clinton assured the crowd she would stay on the public stage.

"I look forward to being your partner in all the days and years ahead," she said.