From the looks of the crowd outside George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium on Friday evening, it could have been Election Day. The entrance line wound around the side of the building, almost to the other end of the block, a sold-out audience waiting to see Hillary Clinton discuss her four-day-old memoir, Hard Choices, with Politics and Prose co-owner Lissa Muscatine (who wrote speeches for Clinton before getting into the bookselling business).
Though the talk had no explicit political implications, both ends of the activist spectrum were out in full force, and all ticketholders were fair prey. Clinton supporters waved “Ready for Hillary” signs on the auditorium steps, handing out bumper stickers to passersby and collecting names and addresses for pre-campaign research. One young woman with a Ready for Hillary clipboard walked through the line, asking about potential VP candidates who might look good next to Clinton on a presidential ticket. “I’ve been hearing ‘young white male,’ that two women on the ballot would be too much,” she told one guy who’d signed her sheet. “Or a young Latino man who hasn’t betrayed her yet,” he said.
The Republican National Committee’s contingent was both flashier and furrier. Along with a small squad of lit distributors, a person in a giant orange squirrel costume wandered around like a goofy college mascot, a visual cue for the team’s T-shirt slogan: “Another Clinton in the White House is nuts.” A few folks posed for pictures with the squirrel, but the crowd was weighted heavily on Clinton’s side—how many Republicans, after all, would pay $55 to spend their Friday evening at a Clinton event? RNC Deputy Press Secretary Raffi Williams, who was directing the group at Lisner, was unfazed. “We’re making people understand that she’s not inevitable [as the next president],” he said.
Attendees received a signed copy of the book with their tickets, and a good number of them started reading as soon as they found a seat in the auditorium. The hum and energy of the crowd was that of a political rally: GW students holding bike helmets, dressed like they’d come straight from the dorm, chattered about Clinton’s chances at the presidency; middle-aged women in fancy dresses wondered if she’d show off a more relaxed sense of humor. “I’ve heard the book is witty,” said Cindy Herrick, a Maryland-based designer. “I’d like to see her personal side.”
Herrick must have been pleased—Clinton talked shop about building alliances in Asia and becoming disillusioned with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, but her hour-long conversation with Muscatine was rife with personal anecdotes that could have come straight out of a user’s guide on relating to the common people. There was the time she got drunk on pisco sours with the State Department press corps in Lima, Peru; the moment of levity on a long overseas flight while watching Breach with her staff (one of the film’s characters quips, “We don’t need any more women in pants, like Hillary Clinton”); the field of study she couldn’t master at Wellesley (French); the Brownie Girl Scout song that informed her approach to diplomacy (“Make new friends, but keep the old/One is silver and the other gold”).
The audience was rapt, filming Clinton on their iPhones like fans at a rock show and applauding when she reflected on America’s mantle as a defender of global human rights. There were standing ovations on Clinton’s entrance and exit, but one of the biggest cheers came for her answer to the sole question that was accepted from the audience via Twitter: Did she really, personally, sign all 1,500-or-so books in the auditorium?
“The answer to that,” Clinton said with a smile, “is yes.” She’d been sent 21,000 pages to sign before the books were bound and knocked out most of the task while watching classic movies on TV at her home in New York. After signing the first few with “Hillary Rodham Clinton” and doing some mental calculations about how long the rest would take, she said she’d decided to shorten it to “Hillary.” For an audience of supporters dying to see the “real” Clinton and hoping for a more relatable potential candidate, that was probably just fine.
Photos by Christina Cauterucci. Book cover courtesy of Simon & Schuster