WASHINGTON — When she said she left the White House "dead broke," pundits called the comment the "first gaffe" of the next presidential race. When she sat for a primetime television interview, they called her performance "rusty." When she got confrontational with an NPR host, they called her exchange "testy," "awkward."
And on Friday evening, Hillary Clinton wanted everyone to know she didn't care.
Clinton wrapped up the first stretch of her tour to promote a new book, Hard Choices, at an event at George Washington University, sponsored by Politics & Prose, the local bookstore. Her old friend and former aide Lissa Muscatine owns the store and moderated Friday's question-and-answer session.
"You're traveling all over the place. You're doing all these interviews. You're keeping a pretty frenetic pace," Muscatine said before an audience of 1,500. "I'm wondering, just as I've watched you, in these past four days — you've had some tough interviews — you seem like you're having a really good time."
"Well, Lissa, I am having a good time."
"You're really free to speak your mind these days," Muscatine said.
"Maybe it's just the wonderful wealth of experience that I now have," Clinton went on. "Maybe it's because I am truly done with, you know, being really careful about what to say because somebody might think this instead of that."
"It just gets too exhausting and frustrating and it just seemed a whole lot easier to just put it out there and hope people get used to it. Whether you agree with it or not, you know exactly where I come from, what I think, what I feel."
"It feels a little bit liberating, to be honest."
"And it's great to watch," Muscatine said. "I have to say."
Clinton and Muscatine moved on to other topics — Syria, Iraq, Vladimir Putin. But the opening exchange provided Clinton the opportunity to respond to what some have characterized as a bad first week on book tour. Most recently, in her interview on Thursday with NPR's Terry Gross, Clinton struggled answering questions about how her position on same-sex marriage has changed.
"There are occasions when I think people gulp a little, including myself, to be fair," Clinton said. "But I really want to share the experiences that I've had."
Clinton seemed relaxed and at ease on stage with Muscatine, who helped write her first memoir, Living History, in 2003. After about an hour, as the event came to a close, Clinton fielded a last question about whether she would run for president in two years, bringing several members of the audience to their feet.
At speeches, Clinton almost always takes her leave as soon as the event is over. But on Friday at George Washington, she lingered to take photos with fans in the front row. She even lifted a baby from a member of the audience, holding it close to her face and posing for pictures. The auditorium let out a flash of oohs and awws, before Clinton handed the child back and walked off stage smiling.