Published on: June 11, 2014Notes and comment from the Content Guy
CHICAGO - She's running.
At least, that's my best guess, after hearing former Secretary of State/New York Senator/First Lady Hillary Clinton deliver highly prepared remarks yesterday in the opening general session here of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and United Fresh shows.
Not everybody in the audience felt that way. One could hear lots of muttering in the audience from people who presumably will not be volunteering for a Clinton-for-President campaign, with words such as "Monica," "Gennifer Flowers," "Rose Law Firm" and "Bubba" being uttered as dismissive epithets, as if they alone disqualified her from the presidency. (Interestingly, I didn't hear anyone say 'Benghazi.") Hard to say if these were deeply considered political judgements or just wishful thinking.
But when Clinton took the stage almost a half-hour after she was supposed to, clad in a hot pink blazer and black pants, and spoke for about a half-hour before engaging in one of the more scripted question-and-answer sessions that I've ever witnessed (moderated by billionaire Stewart Resnick, whose Wonderful Brands sponsored the Clinton appearance and who, for his money, got to sit on stage with her for pose agreed-upon queries) it certainly seemed as if she were priming the pump for a presidential race. (I'd suggest that there is no other reason for her to give such a speech, but the hundreds of thousands of dollars she makes per-speech argue that there could be another reason. So maybe she's just campaigning for her book.)
For the most part, it seemed like the speech was exactly what one would expect from any politician with a new book. She hewed closely to the theme of the book - the "Hard Choices" she had to make as Secretary of State and in her own life - with some customization thrown in (the challenges of the obesity crisis, how government can deal with it, and what the Clinton Foundation is doing in this area in its philanthropic efforts). I haven't read the book, which was just published yesterday, but I've read excerpts, and Clinton used lines taken directly from some of the chapters. That's what speakers do, but unlike Bill Clinton, who is capable of making every speech seem like it is the first time he's delivered it and every audience like it is the most important group he's ever spoken to, there just didn't seem to be a lot of spontaneity.
To be fair, there were two subjects about which Clinton's passions became evident - immigration reform (she said she hoped Congress could pass legislation this year while conceding that this seems unlikely, though she never said what she would do as president to break the logjam), and agricultural programs launched during her tenure at the State Department that endeavored to help farmers in third world countries learn how to use modern farming techniques rather than just throwing hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency food aid at crises when they happen. Such efforts "create a more stable food base," she said, and "help people feed themselves."
In the end, Hillary Clinton's appearance seemed entirely predictable. It may not have changed anybody's mind, but it did for her what it needed to do - launched her book tour in front of a high profile group and continued the sense of presidential inevitability. It also did for both FMI and United Fresh what it needed to do - almost certainly got their names and industry into the second paragraph of hundreds of stories filed last night.
For me, it didn't do a lot to raise my expectations about the state of American politics. And I couldn't help but think of an irony. The event was underwritten/sponsored by Wonderful Brands, which got its chairman a high profile role onstage with a global celebrity. But Wonderful Brands, as it happens, makes a product called Pom Wonderful, which has been in engaged in a long-running argument with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over what regulators say is deceptive advertising, making health claims that are not supported by science.
Deceptive advertising? A politician running (probably) for office? Like I said, lots of irony there, even if unintended.
More tomorrow from FMI Connect/United Fresh.
- KC's View: