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Hillary Clinton's Interconnected Ideas: Part I

The idea that women's rights are not just about women, but about the common good, for men and women is just one example of how Hillary Clinton sees the larger connection among issues and people.
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It shouldn't surprise anyone who has known Hillary Clinton for a while and followed her career in public service to know that she is driven by ideas to bring change that improves people's lives and, just as important, that she sees an interconnected big picture among her ideas to solve major problems when many others see disconnected dots.

At the opening of the "Clinton Global Initiative America" meeting in Chicago on June 13, Hillary Clinton, in her first major address as a private citizen since her four years serving as secretary of state and eight years as a United States senator, set out three apparently distinct issues of importance to all Americans: 1) early childhood development, 2) opportunities for women and girls, and 3) economic development that creates jobs.

But Mrs. Clinton saw them as "interdependent and interconnected" -- just as she described the issues around the globe during her travels to more than 100 countries in her four years as one of the nation's most effective Secretaries of State. She coined the phrase "smart power," and not surprisingly, applied the same ability to make connections and common approaches to "all the problems that we face, from climate change to financial contagion, to nuclear proliferation" -- "too complex and cross-cutting for any one government, or indeed, for governments to solve alone."

In this first of two columns about her speech, I will focus on her ability to extrapolate from the important issue of expanding opportunities for women and girls to make that issue relevant to all Americans, men as well as women.

We are accustomed, understandably so, to female politicians and advocates focusing on "women's rights" -- such as the right of women to be free from discrimination, to privacy and the right to choose, equal pay for equal work, etc. Some advocates sometimes use "we" vs. "they" divisive rhetoric, and sometimes that rhetoric is couched in a mixture of righteousness and anger towards male-dominated institutions.

But that is not Hillary Clinton's approach as long as I have known her. She has this unique capability to put issues into a broader context and give them broader relevance and meaning to everyone, not just to members of a particular group or gender. So it didn't surprise me when she explained in this speech that expanding opportunities for women and girls was not only about "the right thing to do" for women -- it is about benefiting the entire society because it also enhances "competitiveness and stability in the world at large."

And also typical for Hillary Clinton, she is not content to state broad conclusions. She immediately heads for the facts to support her argument -- as long as I've known her, facts first, conclusions second, not the other way around, as too many politicians are prone to do. Here are some of the facts she cited to prove the larger relevance of women's and girl's development to all of the civil society:

"Research shows when women participate in the economy, everyone benefits. When women participate in peacemaking and peacekeeping, we are all safer and secure. And when women participate in politics, the effects ripple out across society."

"American women went from holding 37 percent of all jobs 40 years ago to nearly 48 percent today. The productivity gains attributable to this increase account for more than $3.5 trillion in GDP growth over the last four decades."

"Research by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund show that eliminating barriers to women's participation in the economy boost productivity and GDP for entire economies."

This big idea -- that women's rights are not just about women, but about the common good, for men and women -- is just one example of how Hillary Clinton sees the larger connection among issues and people. It is not surprising that the most frequently used word in the CGI America speech is "partnership" -- specifically in the context of "public-private partnerships." That is a unifying, not a divisive, approach to solving problems.

This is the same argument and reliance on facts that Secretary of State Clinton made around the world concerning the relationship between women's progress and economic development. Now she is bringing that argument home through the CGI and her focus on U.S. domestic issues and solutions.

Next week I will analyze the other two issues addressed in Mrs. Clinton's important speech -- early childhood development and economic development -- and how she interconnects and unifies the three issues with an overall approach to problem-solving that is based on the dual power of facts and partnerships for the common good.

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Mr. Davis is former Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton and is principal in the Washington D.C. law firm of Lanny J. Davis & Associates, in which he specializes in crisis management. He is Special Counsel to Dilworth Paxson of Philadelphia, Pa., and the author of a recently published book, "Crisis Tales: Five Rules for Coping with Crises in Business, Politics, and Life" (Threshold Editions/Simon and Schuster). He can be followed on Twitter @LannyDavis.