In a landscape largely painted by partisan strokes and controversies, former First Lady, New York Senator, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pulled off a rare feat in today’s deeply divided political atmosphere for a former politician: a warm, amicable, and notably non-partisan, hourlong speech at the Morial Convention Center as the National Automobile Dealers Association’s keynote speaker.
She filled the talk with anecdotes about her experiences in public life and a “few folksy anecdotes” about cars she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, owned, Automotive News reports. The pulbication added that she was warmly welcomed despite the controversy that accompanied the decision to choose her as the keynote speaker. Say what you will about Clinton and her politics, but she certainly knows her crowd.
“Building and selling cars to a great extent created the American middle class. The resurgence of the auto industry over the past few years has been a driving force behind our economic recovery. It’s not only that. I know the dealers here and across our country play a vital role in communities. Before coming here, I checked employment figures. Employment at dealerships is on the rise — up more than 3 percent over the last year,” she said to enthusiastic applause from the audience made up largely of, unsurprisingly, auto dealers.
Clinton also took an opportunity to acknowledge Mary Barra, the new CEO of General Motors (NYSE:GM).
“I’m excited about GM’s new CEO. You might guess I would be. I guess you could say she broke through the steel ceiling, not the glass ceiling. Her father spent four decades as a GM die maker. I can’t imagine he dreamed his daughter would head the company,” she said.
“I was pleased, because we have a lot of women in the corporate pipeline who have been working in their industries for a long time and are now finally in a position where they can be given the opportunity for leadership like Mary Barra,” Clinton added, per Automotive News. “I think it sends a really good signals to little girls and little boys.”
Naturally, politics were not completely absent from the talk, but when those topics inevitably came up, the questions came from outgoing NADA Chairman David Westcott, who asked Clinton about a possible presidential run in 2016. Clinton, to her credit, gracefully sidestepped the question, noting that many often put too much emphasis on looking too far forward when there are more pressing issues at hand.
“I have to say I don’t know. I know that’s not a very satisfactory answer,” she said, noting that America has a lot of problems that need working on now and that the rest of the world is watching. ”Whether Republican or Democrat or conservative or liberal, I want them to see we’re all on the same team,” she said, according to Automotive News. “We’re on the American team. We can worry about the next election later. We spend too much time looking over the horizon.”
Since stepping into her role earlier this month, Barra has committed to stay the course initially set by her predecessor at General Motors, Dan Akerson. This includes pulling the Chevrolet brand from Europe in order to focus more heavily on the struggling Opel brand, pushing forward in China, and further evolving the GM family of brands in North America.