Americans as naked gladiators?
Indians as blissful beauties?
Those were the images — exaggerated a bit for dramatic effect — that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton evoked Monday in a question-and-answer session with university students who probed her thinking on a range of topics — some personal.
It was a classic Clinton moment, engaging in what she calls public diplomacy to argue that Americans have more in common with people around the globe than is often suggested. She blamed the media — not just the news but also entertainment — for distortions.
"If Hollywood and Bollywood were how we all lived our lives, that would surprise me," she said with a tone of understatement. "And yet it's often the way our cultures are conveyed, isn't it?
"People watching a Bollywood movie in some other part of Asia think everybody in India is beautiful and they have dramatic lives and happy endings. And if you were to watch American TV and our movies you'd think that we don't wear clothes and we spend all our time fighting with each other."
The crowd roared.
‘Pleasantly surprised’ by appointment
Another student asked Clinton how she has managed to reconcile her policy views with those of President Barack Obama in areas in which they disagreed during last year's race for the Democratic presidential nomination. The student mentioned no examples, but one of the more widely publicized differences between the candidates was Obama's eagerness to hold talks with Iran.
"I think the campaign magnified the differences more than they actually are," she replied. "That's what happens in campaigns. I'm sure you've noticed that. You draw differences and try to make them seem extremely large in order to convince people to vote for you rather than the other person."
She went on to say she was "pleasantly surprised" when, shortly after the election, Obama asked her to become his chief diplomat.
"We talked a lot about what do we want to do and how we could set the goals and achieve our objectives," she said, acknowledging there were "maybe some differences of degree, but not necessarily difference of kind" between herself and the president.
One of the notable features of the Obama-Clinton relationship six months into his presidency is the absence, at least publicly, of divisions that many had predicted would develop between two strong personalities who so recently were fierce political rivals. Clinton told the student that she is proud to be a member of an administration that shares her goal of "positive change" in U.S. foreign relations.
The discussion got a little more personal when a student asked Clinton whether she feels that her gender kept her from winning the White House.
"As for myself, I feel very grateful that I've had the experiences that I've had," said the former first lady and former U.S. senator.
"I don't look back. I am always somebody who gets up and looks forward. But I am fueled by my commitment to making sure that we eradicate all the remaining vestiges of discrimination toward women."