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At Clinton Reunion, Hillary Talks About Past With An Eye To The Future

Most speakers at the Clinton reunion in Little Rock reminisced about the White House years. At her event here, Hillary Clinton talked about women's issues, and how to move forward. “You’ve got to be willing to let go of what doesn’t work.”

Posted on November 15, 2014, at 10:27 p.m. ET

Danny Johnston / AP Photo

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — It was a weekend to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Clinton Presidential Center, a four-day reunion and retrospective of the 42nd president's White House. But at her first public event here, Hillary Clinton did not reminisce much about the '90s or recall the policies of her husband's administration.

Before a crowd of old friends, advisers, and political supporters on Saturday afternoon, Clinton led a conversation about her family's foundation that focused on the work she did in Arkansas to advance women's economic opportunity — and how it could be applied in the future.

The discussion, held on the second floor of the glassy Clinton Presidential Center, marked the 10th such event for No Ceilings, an initiative the former secretary of state started after joining the Clinton Foundation early last year.

Foundation officials working on the project — led by Clinton and her daughter Chelsea — have been collecting data about the economic and social participation of women and girls. The numbers will show what progress has been made, and what "gaps" remain. On Saturday, Clinton said the foundation would release the "preliminary" results of the analysis "in the next few months."

"Data matters because you've got to learn what works," Clinton told the audience of about 200 people. "You've got to be willing to let go of what doesn't work."

The event was Clinton's first public appearance since the midterms, when she campaigned for more than two dozen Democratic candidates. The majority fell short on Election Day. Clinton did not talk about the sweeping Republican victories on Saturday — or mention the presidential campaign many expect she will launch sometime next year.

The conversation on Saturday did not stray far from the foundation. Throughout the program, Clinton called on Arkansas community leaders in the audience — many she has known for years — to discuss the work they've done here to expand economic opportunity for women.

The speakers included Ginger Beebe, the first lady of Arkansas; Grant Tenille, the executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission; and Anna Strong, the head of the child advocacy and public health at the Arkansas Children's Hospital, where Chelsea, who appeared on stage with her mother, said she was a patient growing up in Little Rock.

More than one person pointed out that Clinton herself pioneered most of the initiatives highlighted during the program. One was the childhood education program called the Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youth, or HIPPY, that she brought to Arkansas in the 1980s.

At one point, when another person mentioned that Clinton was behind one of the projects being discussed, Chelsea joked, "This was not the theme that we organized."

Still, the discussion was not as reflective on the '90s as others this weekend. Asked whether the discussion fit into the wider program, Clinton said, "Of course it did."

"I started a lot of these programs," she told a small group of reporters in the hallway outside the center's Great Hall. The point of the event, including the guest speakers, Clinton said, was to show that "things can work. And you can't get discouraged, and you can't give up."

"I think we need to hear that right now," Clinton said. "So of course you have to look at the past. You have to see what we've done and why we did it and why we learned from it, in order to think about what you can do for the next 10 years."

Most of the events this weekend here in Arkansas — the place where Bill Clinton launched his political career 40 years ago — took the shape of a rolling family reunion. Clinton alumni moved in packs from panels to late-night drinks in the Capital Hotel, the social hub during the celebration. (Rooms have been sold out for months.)

On Friday morning, cabinet officials from the 42nd president's administration, including Gene Sperling and Bruce Reed, recalled the Clinton years in a series of panels. Later that afternoon, Bill Clinton delivered a sprawling, hour-long-plus speech about his administration. "We made our fair share of mistakes," he said to an audience full of familiar faces. "But in the end, on foreign and domestic policy, economic and social, you can honestly say that people were better off."

After the speech, Bill Clinton stood near the front of the stage for more than 25 minutes to greet a long receiving line of former staffers and Arkansas friends.

"I knew I saw you back there," he told one man in line.

Another approached and said it was his first time seeing the presidential center.

"It's good, right?" Clinton responded.

Others came with stories. "Remember when Nancy introduced you in New Hampshire and said only thing we have in New Hampshire of trickle down economics is yellow snow?" one man asked Clinton. "And you just laughed and laughed?"

"I loved that," Clinton replied. "We'll see you later."

Between panels and over drinks this weekend, attendees talked freely about what they expect will be a second Clinton bid for the White House. But the subject was a nonstarter at the official programming here on Friday and Saturday.

At one event, when longtime Clinton adviser Vernon Jordan was asked about the former first lady's future, he had a quick, dry response at the ready.

"That's not the subject of this event."

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