What Happened: Clinton’s Account Reveals Our Broken Democracy

I’ve been listening to Hillary Clinton’s What Happened in spurts over the past few days, and it’s time to start sharing some of the highlights. In her own voice on audio, Clinton speaks on a wide range of topics related to her political life. In particular, Clinton speaks with regret about taking speaking fees from large financial corporations and analyzes how the alt-right’s slandering the Clinton Foundation skewed the election.

I am now on Chapter 9, and this is when What Happened gets very relevant to philanthropy. I highly recommend listening to the book on audio — it really helps to have the words spoken by Hillary Clinton, who is destined for legendary status in the history of women’s advancement, whether she won the presidency or not.

From Hillary Clinton:

My life after leaving politics had turned out to be pretty great. I had joined Bill and Chelsea as a new Board member of the Clinton Foundation which Bill had turned into a major global philanthropy after leaving office. This allowed me to pursue my own passions and have an impact without all the bureaucracy and petty squabbles of Washington. I admired what Bill had built, and I loved that Chelsea had decided to bring her knowledge of public health and her private sector experience to the foundation, to improve its management, transparency, and performance, after a period of rapid growth.

At the 2002 International AIDS conference in Barcelona, Bill had a conversation with Nelson Mandela about the urgent need to lower the price of HIV/AIDS drugs in Africa and across the world. Bill figured he was well positioned to help, so he began negotiating agreements with drug makers and governments to lower medicine prices dramatically and to raise the money to pay for it. It worked. More than 11.5 million people in more than 70 countries now have access to cheaper HIV AIDS treatment. Right now, out of everyone being kept alive by these drugs in developing countries around the world, more than half the adults and 75 percent of the children are benefiting from the Clinton Foundation’s work.

It is shocking to consider the real-world positive impact of the Clinton Foundation’s work, and the degree to which the alt-right’s skewed portrayal of the Clinton Foundation might have influenced public opinion during the election. Hearing Clinton speak about it, it becomes clear that more must be done to investigate what happened.

Clinton goes on to detail the extensive philanthropic work the Clinton Foundation does in improving nutrition and exercise in public schools, protecting endangered species, addressing climate change in the Caribbean, and more. Then, she talks about my favorite part. Read on:

When I joined the Foundation in 2013, I teamed up with Melinda Gates the Gates Foundation a to launch an initiative called No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project to Advance Rights and Opportunities for Women and Girls around the world. I also created a program called Too Small to Fail, to encourage reading, talking and singing to infants and toddlers, to help their brains develop and build vocabulary. […]

None of these programs had to poll well or fit on a bumper sticker; they just had to make a positive difference in the world. After years in the political trenches, that was both refreshing and rewarding.

I can imagine what a difference Clinton was experiencing as she spent more time with the Clinton Foundation and started to build her own sense of strategy into the organization’s mission. But her involvement with her own family’s foundation was destined to have devastating consequences to her political career.

I knew from experience that if I ran for president again, everything that Bill and I had ever touched would be subject to scrutiny and attack, including the foundation.  That was a concern, but I never imagined that this widely respected global charity would be as savagely smeared and attacked as it was. For years, the foundation and CGI had been supported by republicans and democrats alike. Independent philanthropy watchdogs, Charity Watch, Guidestar, and Charity Navigator, gave the the Clinton Foundation top marks for reducing overhead and having a measurable, positive impact. […]

But none of that stopped brutal partisan attacks from raining down during the campaign.

I have written by the Foundation at some length because a recent analysis published in the Columbia Journalism Review showed that during the campaign, there was twice as much written about the Clinton Foundation as there was on any of the Trump scandals, and nearly all it was negative. That gets to me.

It gets to me, too. In a big way.  It is a wrong that must be addressed by a full investigation into the media manipulation that skewed the election. It was nearly impossible to learn real information about Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. Even my 10 year old daughter was coming home from school with talking points for me about how Clinton’s emails needed to be more fully investigated.

Back to Hillary:

As Daniel Borochoff, the founder of Charity Watch put it, “If Hillary Clinton wasn’t running for President, the Clinton Foundation would be seen as one of the great humanitarian charities of our generation.”

That’s right. The fake news on the Clinton Foundation may have had a profound impact, given that there was twice as much of that fake news heaped on the American media consumer than any of the much more atrocious news stories about Donald Trump, including his sexual assault of a woman and his University’s fraudulent dealings.

I hope to share more about the book as I continue on, but there is no doubt that you should listen to it yourself. For what it’s worth, I also find listening to the book recharges my battery for making the democratic party a stronger entity. The urgency of the party’s need to take back the country in the next election has never felt so real. The book also renews my respect for Clinton and her life work. She is not a perfect human being, but she is a darn good one, and she would have made an excellent leader of our country.

Philanthropy Women will also publish a review of the book from Tim Lehnert in the coming weeks.

Related:

The Clinton Foundation is Alive and Well and Looking to Expand Some Programs

Clinton Foundation Brings Together Over 40 Partners for Girl Athletes

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work in Cranston, Rhode Island, and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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