Published August 13, 2009
A close aide to Hillary Clinton dismissed as "psychobabble" the fuss over the secretary of state's barbed response to a questioner asking for her famous husband's opinion instead of her own. Clinton ignored questions about the episode as she wound down a marathon African trip Thursday.
Clinton had reacted strongly earlier this week when a Congolese student in Kinshasa asked her for the opinion of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, about an international economic issue.
"Wait. You want me to tell you what my husband thinks?" a wide-eyed Clinton asked Tuesday in response. "My husband is not the secretary of state; I am. So you ask my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. I'm not going to be channeling my husband."
Asked Thursday about the impact of the widely reported exchange, Clinton was silent, then quickly launched into a glowing assessment of her 10-day tour of seven African nations.
Holding up the front page of a local tabloid, The Analyst, Clinton pointed to a smiling photograph of herself and a headline, "Hillary Arrives, Liberia Glees."
"I opened this newspaper and I think she looks like she's having great time," Clinton said.
Melanne Verveer, an ambassador-at-large for global women's issues and a longtime Clinton friend, said Thursday that the episode "was much ado about very little."
"I don't want psychobabble read into it," Verveer said during a conference call about the State Department's commitment of $17 million to combat gender-based violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Verveer added that "this whole question was very much a side event" during "an incredible discussion with college students who wanted to have a heart-to-heart discussion."
The Congolese student who raised the former president's name later approached Clinton insisting he had meant to ask about President Barack Obama instead of her husband.
State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said later that Clinton bristled because the question seemed to seek a male response instead of her view.
"As the question was posed to her, it was posed in a way that said, 'I want to get the views of two men, but not you, the secretary of state,"' Crowley said.
Clinton's African trip had just started last week when administration officials revealed that her husband was flying to North Korea to negotiate for the release of two American journalists being held for straying over the border.
Bill Clinton's mission succeeded, and media attention to his return with the two freed journalists stole the spotlight from his wife's trip.
Hillary Clinton then drew some negative attention for comparing a disputed Nigerian election with the 2000 U.S. stalemate that ended with George W. Bush winning out over Al Gore, who served as Bill Clinton's vice president.
"Our democracy is still evolving," Clinton said. "You know we had some problems in some of our presidential elections. As you may remember, in 2000 our presidential election came down to one state where the brother of one of the men running for president was governor of the state. So we have our problems too."