Hillary Rodham Clinton delighted an overwhelmingly female audience at Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre last night, though the Plenary space has the feeling of a corporate retreat stuck inside a nuclear bomb shelter.
Clinton's arrival was heralded by the feel-good montage (narrated by honest-to-God Morgan Freeman) that preceded her Democratic Convention appearance in 2016. She took to the stage to deliver a practised, but still powerful, speech about what went wrong, how to cope, and what's next. She focused on four key messages: 1. Everyone who gets knocked down, it's whether you get back up that matters. 2. The only way to get sexism out of politics is to get more women into politics (this got hella cheers). 3. The forces at work in the 2016 election are still with us – she singled out Russia's involvement and the proliferation of Russia-controlled Facebook and Twitter accounts. 4. There is no such thing as an alternative fact.
She's a seasoned politician, and those who think she's a cold fish wouldn't have changed that opinion based on her Melbourne appearance. Those close to Clinton say she's a fierce ally, warm, funny and undyingly loyal, but her strength is not in addressing crowds (many think that failing cost her the election). Although she did touch on her deep grief after November 2016 and talked about how she managed to keep going after such a devastating loss (chardonnay and homes and gardens reality television played big roles), you don't get tears and gnashing of teeth with Clinton. Many of her fans want her to lead a group catharsis, but that's not her style. Her style is to grit her teeth, swallow hard, and get on with things.
Speaking of grinning and bearing it, Clinton was then joined onstage by Julia Gillard, who had her own share of knocks. Gillard seemed nervous about interviewing Clinton (who despite proclaiming the two to be great friends, mispronounced her last name), asking her admiring questions about how she got to be so gosh darn awesome. The interview was not the highlight of the evening – it seemed a little strange that an actual world leader, who was elected prime minister and led the Australian government for three years, would be cowed by a woman who, though extremely accomplished, has never been elected to national leadership.
But seeing both remarkable women in the same room was nothing short of inspirational, and despite the Melbourne winter chill, there was a warm glow when we filed back out into the night.