Clinton described some of the lessons she learned during her time in the Senate and at the State Department, contrasting it with the budget battle engulfing Congress and the White House and a looming deadline to raise the nation's debt limit.
"Today, too many in our politics choose scorched earth over common ground. Many of our public debates are happening in what I like to call an evidence-free zone, where ideology trumps data and common sense," she said. "That is a recipe for paralysis, not progress."
Recalling shutdowns during the mid-1990s, Clinton noted that her husband worked with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich to find a way to reopen the government. Neither side got everything it wanted, she said, but it led to a balanced budget and economic growth.
Clinton said the stalemate could have repercussions around the globe, noting that the shutdown had forced President Barack Obama to cancel his trip to Asia for meetings with world leaders. "Russia is there. China is there. We're not there," Clinton said, arguing that it could affect the way the U.S. is perceived around the globe.
Polls show Clinton would be the leading contender for the White House in 2016 if she decides to seek the presidency again. The Hamilton address, before 5,800 people jammed into the college's field house, offered glimpses of a possible campaign.
Clinton received loud applause at several points during her speech and question-and-answer session and shook hands with dozens of students and others along a blue partition after the event. Some stretched out their smart phones to take a picture of the former first lady.
Hamilton's president, Joan Hinde Stewart, said the college's speaker series had brought to campus former President Bill Clinton, prime ministers, secretaries of state and other leaders. "Never yet a future president, but there's a first time for everything," Stewart said to cheers.
Clinton avoided any talk of another White House campaign, but she spoke of the need to promote trade around the globe and to help young people find jobs.
"We need to be thinking together again, not fighting the same old stale arguments," Clinton said. "I worked with Republicans and Democrats. I worked with business leaders and labor leaders, anybody with a good idea. So let's think about how we're going to spur growth again."
Describing lessons she learned as the nation's top diplomat, Clinton said that after a decade of war and financial crisis, "the United States remains the indispensable nation."
"For me this isn't even a question. We have to lead. I hear all the talk about America needs to pull back and not be so active. That's not the world I've seen," she said.
Clinton said that after traveling the world, "my faith in our country is deeper. Our optimism about our future is strong. But we're not going to get there by accident or hoping for it. We're really going to have to work hard, we're going to have to make this country work for all of us again."
Concluding her remarks, Clinton urged the audience, "Let's take this country that has given so much to people like us, the greatest force for peace and progress that the world has ever known and resolve we are going to pull together."
She added: "We are going to get out of the evidence-free zone. We're going to start looking at the facts. We're going to roll up our sleeves. We're going to solve our problems together. We're going to build a kind of future that our children and our grandchildren deserve."
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