Return to Transcripts main page

Inside Politics

Hillary Clinton Commencement Speech; Clinton Talks Trump in Speech. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired May 26, 2017 - 12:00   ET


[12:00:00] HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Casualties and dishonest official statements about Vietnam and deep differences over civil rights and poverty here at home. We were asking urgent questions about whether women, people of color, religious minorities, immigrants would ever be treated with dignity and respect. And, by the way, we were furious about the past presidential election of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with his impeachment for obstruction of justice.

After - after firing the person running the investigation into him at the Department of Justice.

But here's what I want you to know. We got through that tumultuous time. And, once again, we began to thrive as our society changed laws and opened the circle of opportunity and rights wider and wider for more Americans. We revved up the engines of innovation and imagination. We turned back a tide of intolerance and embraced inclusion. The "we" who did those things were more than those in power who wanted to change course. It was millions of ordinary citizens, especially young people, who voted, marched and organized.

Now, of course today has some important differences. The advance of technology, the impact of the Internet, our fragmented media landscape make it easier than ever to splinter ourselves into echo chambers. We can shut out contrary voices, avoid ever questioning our basic assumptions, extreme views are given powerful microphones, leaders willing to exploit fear and skepticism have tools at their disposal that were unimaginable when I graduated.

And here's what that means to you, class of 2017. You are graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason. Just log on - just log on to social media for ten seconds. It will hit you right in the face, people denying science, concocting elaborate, hurtful conspiracies theories about child abuse rings operating out of pizza parlors, drumming up rampant fear about undocumented immigrants, Muslims, minorities, the poor, turning neighbor against neighbor and sowing division at a time when we desperately need unity.

Some are even denying things we see with our own eyes, like the size of crowds and then defending themselves by talking about, quote/unquote, "alternative facts."

But this is serious business. Look at the budget that was just proposed in Washington. It is an attack of unimaginable cruelty on the most vulnerable among us, the youngest, the oldest, the poorest, and hardworking people who need a little help to gain or hang on to a decent middle class life. It grossly underfunds public education, mental health, and efforts even to combat the opioid epidemic. And in reversing our commitment to fight climate change, it puts the future of our nation and our world at risk.

[12:05:14] And to top it off, it is shrouded in a trillion dollar mathematical lie. Let's call it what it is, it's a con. They don't even try to hide it. Why does all this matter? It matters because if our leaders lie about the problems we face, we'll never solve them. It matters because it undermines confidence in government as a whole, which in turn breeds more cynicism and anger. But it also matters because our country, like this college, was founded on the principles of the enlightenment. In particular, the belief that people, you and I, possess the capacity for reason and critical thinking. And that free and open debate is the life blood of a democracy.

Not only Wellesley, but the entire American university system, the envy of the world, was founded on those fundamental ideals. We should not abandon them. We should revere them. We should aspire to them every single day in everything we do.

And there's something else. As the history majors among you here today know all too well, when people in power invent their own facts and attack those who question them, it can mark the beginning of the end of a free society.

That is not hyperbole. It is what authoritarian regimes throughout history have done. They attempt to control reality, not just our laws and our rights and our budgets, but our thoughts and beliefs.

Right now some of you might wonder, well, why am I telling you all this? You don't own a cable news network. You don't control the FaceBook algorhythm. You aren't a member of Congress, yet. Because I believe with all my heart that the future of America, indeed the future of the world, depends on brave, thoughtful people, like you, insisting on truth and integrity right now every day. You didn't create these circumstances, but you have the power to change them.

Vaclav Havel, the dissident playwright, first president of the Czech Republic, wrote an essay called "The Power of the Powerless." And in it he said, the moment someone breaks through in one place, when one person cries out the emperor is naked. When a single person breaks the rules of the game thus exposing it as a game, everything suddenly appears in another light. What he's telling us is, if you feel powerless, don't. Don't let anyone tell you your voice doesn't matter.

In the years to come, there will be trolls galore, online and in person, eager to tell you that you don't have anything worthwhile to say or anything meaningful to contribute. They may even call you a nasty woman.

[12:10:12] Some may take a slightly more sophisticated approach and say you're elite education means you are out of touch with real people. In other words, sit down and shut up. Now, in my experience, that's the last thing you should ever tell a Wellesley graduate. And here's the good news. What you've learned these four years is precisely what you need to face the challenges of this moment. First, you learned critical thinking. I can still remember the professors who challenged me to make decisions with good information, rigorous reasoning, real deliberation. I know we didn't have much of that in this past election, but we have to get back to it. After all, in the words of my predecessor in the Senate, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts.

And your education gives you more than knowledge. It gives you the power to keep learning and apply what you know to improve your life and the lives of others. Because you are beginning your careers with one of the best educations in the world, I think you do have a special responsibility to give others the chance to learn and think for themselves, and to learn from them so that we can have the kind of open fact-based debate necessary for our democracy to survive and flourish. And along the way, you may be convinced to change your mind from time to time. You know what? That's OK. Take it from me, the former president of the Wellesley College Young Republicans.

Second, you learn the value of an open mind and an open society. At their best, our colleges and universities are free marketplaces of ideas, embracing a diversity of perspectives and backgrounds. That's our country at our best too. An open, inclusive, diverse society is the opposite of an anecdote to a closed society where there is only one right way to think, believe, and act. Here at Wellesley, you've worked hard to turn this ideal into a reality. You've spoken out against racism and sexism and xenophobia and discrimination of all kinds, and you've shared your own stories and at times that's taken courage. But the only way our society will ever become a place where everyone truly belongs is if all of us speak openly and honestly about who we are, what we're going through. So keep doing that.

And let me add that your learning, listening and serving should include people who don't agree with you politically. A lot of our fellow Americans have lost faith in the existing economic, social, political, and cultural conditions of our country. Many feel left behind, left out, looked down on. Their anger and alienation has proved a fertile ground for false promises and false information. Their economic problems and cultural anxiety must be addressed or they will continue to sign up to be foot soldiers in the ongoing conflict between us and them.

The opportunity is here. Millions of people will be hurt by the policies, including this budget that is being considered. And many of those same people don't want dreamers deported or health care taken away. Many don't want to retreat on civil rights, women's rights and LGBT rights. So if your outreach is rebuffed, keep trying. Do the right thing anyway. We're going to share this future. Better do so with open hearts and outstretched hands than closed minds and clenched fists.

[12:15:29] And third, here at Wellesley you learned the power of service, because while free and fierce conversations in classrooms, dorm rooms, dining halls are vital, they only get us so far. You have to turn those ideas and those values into action. This college has always understood that. The motto which you've heard

twice already not to be ministered unto but to minister is as true today as it ever was. You think about it, it's kind of an old fashioned rendering of President Kennedy's great statement, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.

Not long ago, I got a note from a group of Wellesley alums and students who had supported me in the campaign. They worked their hearts out. And like a lot of people, they're wondering, what do we do now? Well, I think there's only one answer. Keep going. Don't be afraid of your ambition, of your dreams or even your anger. Those are powerful forces. But harness them to make a difference in the world. Stand up for truth and reason. Do it in private, in conversations with your family, your friends, your workplace, your neighborhoods, and do it in public, in media posts, on social media, or grab a sign and head to a protest. Make defending truth and a free society a core value of your life every single day. So wherever you wind up next, the minute you get there, register to vote.

And while you're at it, encourage others to do so. And then vote in every election. Not just the presidential ones. Bring others to vote. Fight every effort to restrict the right of law abiding citizens to be able to vote as well.

Get involved in a cause that matters to you. Pick one. Start somewhere. You don't have to do everything. But don't sit on the sidelines. And you know what? Get to know your elected officials. If you disagree with them, ask questions. Challenge them. Better yet, run for office yourself someday.

Now, that's not for everybody. I know. And it's certainly not for the faint of heart. But it's worth it. As they say in one of my favorite movies, "A League of Their Own," it's supposed to be hard. The hard is what makes it great.

As Tala (ph) said, the day after the election, I did want to speak, particularly to women and girls everywhere, especially young women, because you are valuable, and powerful, and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world. Not just your future, but our future depends on you believing that. We need your smarts, of course. But we also need your compassion, your curiosity, your stubbornness. And, remember, you are even more powerful because you have so many people supporting you, cheering you on, standing with you through good times and bad.

You know, our culture often celebrates people who appear to go it alone. But the truth is, that's not how life works. Anything worth doing takes a village. And you build that village by investing love and time into your relationships. And in those moments, for whatever reason, when it might feel bleak, think back to this place where women have the freedom to take risks, make mistakes, even fail in front of each other.

[12:20:15] Channel the strength of your Wellesley classmates and experiences. I guarantee you, it will help you stand up a little straighter, feel a little braver, knowing that the things you joked about and even took for granted can be your secret weapons for your future.

One of the things that gave me the most hope and joy after the election, when I really needed it, was meeting so many young people who told me that my defeat had not defeated them. And I'm going to devote a lot of my future to helping you make your mark in the world. I've created a new organization called Onward Together to help recruit and train future leaders, organize for real and lasting change. The work never ends.

When I graduated and made that speech, I did say, and some of you might have pictures from that day with this on it, the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible. That was true then. It's truer today. I never could have imagined where I would have been 48 years later. Certainly never that I would have run for the presidency of the United States or seen progress for women in all walks of life over the course of my lifetime. And, yes, put millions of more cracks in that highest and hardest glass ceiling. Because just in those years, doors that once seemed sealed to women are now open. They're ready for you to walk through or charge through, to advance the struggle for equality, justice, and freedom.

So whatever your dreams are today, dream even bigger. Wherever you have set your sights, raise them even higher. And above all, keep going. Don't do it because I asked you to. Do it for yourselves. Do it for truth and reason. Do it because the history of Wellesley and this country tells us it's often during the darkest times when you can do the most good. Double down on your passions. Be bold. Try. Fail. Try again and lean on each other. Hold on to your values. Never give up on those dreams.

I'm very optimistic about the future because I think, after we've tried a lot of other things, we get back to the business of America. I believe in you with all my heart. I want you to believe in yourselves. So go forth, be great, but first graduate. Congratulations!

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. You're watching there the Democratic candidate for president, Hillary Clinton, speaking at her alma mater, Wellesley College, delivering the commencement address 49 years after she spoke to the commencement as a student.

Hillary Clinton staring with a little humor about how she dealt with her election loss, but then delivering a full-throated attack on the Trump administration and on President Trump personally, saying he had proposed a budget of unimaginable cruelty, saying that the was a leader who routinely lies to the American people.

Let's unpack what we just heard over the last 30 minutes here. With us to share their reporting and their insights, Abby Phillip of "The Washington Post," Amy Walter of "The Cook Political Report," John Yang of the "PBS Newshour," and Karoun Deririjian of "The Washington Post."

That was remarkable. And I want to come back - I want to come back. It was - this was just full-throated. A lot of people think, what is Hillary Clinton going to do in her political retirement. That's not retirement. As she spoke at this commencement, a budget of unimaginable cruelty. A trillion dollar mathematical lite, she said, wrapped into that budget. She mocked the president for talking about crowd sizes, alternative facts. And, she said, in her view, he's a threat to society. Let's listen.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's something else. As the history majors among you here today know all too well, when people in power invent their own facts and attack those who question them, it can mark the beginning of the end of a free society.


[12:25:29] KING: Now, if you're a Trump voter out there, you're probably saying, sore loser. But we didn't know how active and how aggressive she was going to be. That was something else.

ABBY PHILLIP, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, and I still - I mean I think Hillary Clinton is doing something that she probably does best, which is sort of encourage people to do more. I mean I think I consider that speech to be sort of like a cheerleading act for the resistance on the Democratic side because the one thing that was missing was the way forward. And maybe a commencement address is not the venue for that. But she did sort of like outline or sort of give more justification or encourage people to speak up against what they're seeing and what they might not like. And that's something that probably is a safe, comfortable space for her because I think there are still a lot of questions about how far out front she's going to be. I think this was sort of like a sort of midway point. It was full throttle resist, but not necessarily, I want to be the leader of the next step forward.

AMY WALTER, "COOK POLITICAL REPORT": Yes, it is - it is remarkable to me that we are, what, six months into 2017 and it's like the 2016 campaign never ever ended and it feels like it never ever will. The president continues to go around with his Electoral College map, reminding us the states that he won. We have Hillary Clinton here reminding us about her frustration and the, quote/unquote "resistance" that continues on the Democratic side.

And there is really no healing. There was no healing in that speech. And I think Abby made a really good point about what's the path forward, as well as, you know, there's been a lot of criticism about Donald Trump about his lack of humility. There wasn't a lot of humility in that speech either about -

KING: Right.

WALTER: I got beat by somebody nobody thought could win. What should we be looking at? Not just me, but the party, the folks who are around who believe in resisting Donald Trump? What did we get wrong and how do we get it right?

KING: Right. She did talk about getting the young people involved. She talked about her own organization she has founded. She also harked back - it was - it was in the 1969 when she was the student speaker at her own commencement. You know, if you're not familiar with the history, if you're too young to remember the history, you know, Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had been killed the year before. We were in the middle of the Vietnam War. It was a time, as she said, of incredible distrust of government, of institutions, of civil disorder, of fights over the civil rights movement. She recalled that moment that she made this connection.


HILLARY CLINTON (D), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We were furious about the past presidential election of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with his impeachment for obstruction of justice, after - after firing the person running the investigation into him at the Department of Justice.


KING: I mean, you can pull punches, John, or you can throw punches. That - that was throwing punches.

JOHN YANG, "PBS NEWSHOUR": Not a terribly subtle reference. I mean also you have to remember, given her history, she went from Wellesley to Yale Law School and then went to The Hill, where she worked on the Watergate Committee.

KING: The Watergate Committee, right.

YANG: But again, it is sort of this sort of bringing up the looming presence of the talk about impeachment, which I think is really sort of unrealistic right now and not talking about the way forward, as Abby and Amy talked about. This is the Democrats' problem. They don't have a strategy other than complaining about Donald Trump. They have no way forward.

KAROUN DEMIRJIAN, "THE WASHINGTON POST": I mean and a way that was almost jokingly a way forward. She's like predicting what she'd like to see.

But the thing is, it's not really her role to be the crafter of their way forward because she's been the - you know, she's had two runs at the presidency. She's probably not the person that's going to pick up this mantel again and be the leader of the party in that way. So it's her job to kind of keep the fury, keep the anger alive. She talked about that. If you can harness that, that's a good thing. And so that's what she's talking about.

The only problem is, that you need somebody to step up, you know, to meet Clinton, to lay out a way forward because even if she gets what she was predicting, you know, even if there is an impeachment, which a lot of Democrats do not want to touch with a 10 foot pole right now, it doesn't make her president, you know.

[12:30:00] KING: Right, but when you - but when you - to your point, though, Karoun, when you see Hillary Clinton making this cases - and obviously it's personal to her. When you see her making this case, you are asked, how else is it for the Democrats. And we see President Obama come up from time to time. Secretary Clinton from time to time.