America, meet fun Hillary.
A newly relaxed, approachable, and somewhat amusing Clinton was on full display Thursday at the American Camp Association’s Tri-State Conference in Atlantic City, where she gave what could be her last paid speech before launching a presidential campaign.
And first policy prescription for the room full of happy campers, before a veiled shot at the current Democratic president? Have more fun.
“As I have gotten older, I have decided we really need camps for adults,” she said. “We need the kind of camps that you all run, none of the serious stuff, none of the, you know, life challenge stuff, more fun. I think we have a huge fun deficit in America.”
She would know. The last time we saw the former secretary of state, she not was having fun. She was on the defensive in front of a horde of reporters asking about her use of personal email when she was at the State Department.
Not here, though, in an environment she completely controlled. She was relaxed and polished. You could see why she’s been making money hand over fist with these speeches over the last few years.
On its face, the expo center was an odd venue, filled with adventure vendors selling everything from camping gear to bedbug remedies. The usual speakers at the annual conference, attendees said, were child development experts and players in the camping industry.
The sole booth with any political reference was HollyRock Entertainment, where a giant Bill Clinton head sat on display. (The vendor assured The Daily Beast that the Hillary head was commissioned and would be ready when she hits the campaign trail.)
But in many ways it was the perfect conditions for Clinton: a speech, softball Q&A with a political ally, and the press clustered off in the back of the room.
Her campy (sorry) but self-deprecating humor (“When I was growing up, back in the Middle Ages!”) landed just right with a crowd accustomed to name games and trust falls.
And even though many of the attendees weren’t sure why Clinton was there, they were happy to have her.
But to be fair, the nearly 3,000 attendees seemed like a group of naturally upbeat and enthusiastic people. Not a lot of those on the campaign trail.
As three giant, glowing bamboo-shaped lights softly changed colors around the stage, Clinton wove in and out of stories about her daughter Chelsea, at camp as a child, into light political fare like the importance of a clean environment and universal pre-kindergarten. She name-checked New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, an old political ally who hails from the left wing of her party, on the last point.
But the real fun began when she started talking about the political environment in Washington. Using camp metaphors, of course.
“The red cabin and the blue cabin have to come together and actually listen to each other. Wouldn’t that be a novel idea?” she said. “Sort of create this much more open dialogue opportunity which I would like to see more of in this country.”
Later she stressed the importance of building relationships with the other side of the political aisle.
“I don’t think there is any substitute for building relationships, I just don’t,” she said.
Left unspoken was how the head counselor of the blue cabin has been routinely criticized for failing to forge a bond with the campers in the red cabin.
She also painted a rosy picture of Bill Clinton’s relationship with Newt Gingrich when the latter was House speaker, saying Gingrich would come over to the White House to hash out policies out with the president after he was done trashing them in public. They got stuff done. Politics, she stressed, is for people who know how to talk and compromise, and the red cabin talked to the blue cabin when the Clintons were in charge.
“Newt Gingrich would get up and say the worst thing about Bill and sometimes me during the day, and then he’d kind of come over to the White House and go up to the second floor, and they’d try to work out what they could do on everything from welfare reform to balancing the budget to dealing with the Mexican financial crisis, you name it,” she said.
“The artifice, the kind of public persona was shelved, and people actually talked about what they needed to accomplish,” she said. “There is no substitute for that.”
America, meet fun Hillary, candidate of change.