Hillary Clinton at HIMSS: An Assessment

Hillary Clinton works the HIMSS14 crowd.

I wasn’t wowed by Hillary Clinton’s presentation at HIMSS14. Perhaps it was her overly polished nature or the fact that she really didn’t seem to say anything more than catch phrases arranged by her speech writer, which were obviously meant to garner “oohs” and “ahs” from the Clinton-friendly crowd.

Perhaps I was put off by the campaign-style stump that she delivered or that, once again, she claimed credit for being at the forefront of healthcare and working across the isle from her days in the White House and Senate. Or, perhaps it was her seemingly misplaced reference to Alexis DeTocqueville, the 19th century French historian.

The reference to the French observer of this country seemed trite and overly simplified, especially for such a sophisticated group.

“Lots of places were grander and richer,” Clinton stated, referring to the chronicler, “yet what did he say we have that he found unique? He said we were distinguished by the habits of our hearts. What did he mean by that? He meant that we worked with one another. In those days it might have been putting up a barn for a farmer who lost his to a fire. Or forming a volunteer police or fire department, or starting the first hospital.”

To a point she’s right, of course. As a society, Americans tend, for the most part, to be a people of full and giving hearts. We as a people come together, in a connected manner, much the same as we should and are in healthcare. However, her reference did little more for me than stir up memories of the man from conversations that took place in my political science class years ago.

DeTocqueville’s observations are almost 150 years old. Though we’re still some of the things he observed, we’re also much more advanced and significantly different. We’re more complex, we’re worldlier, and we’re more connected. Sure, all of those same attributes can be said for those in healthcare, but I’m not sure why she’d conjure up images and archaic references for an industry grappling with its own issues; one that’s surging proudly and prominently into the 21st century.

In much the same manner, a similar reference is made of days gone by when Republicans’ constant questioning of what Ronald Reagan would do were he leading today. Interesting dinner conversation, to say the least, but in practicality, what difference does it make? The man is gone and no matter how much they want to draw from Reagan’s leadership, we are living in a different time. What he did three decades ago likely does not apply to today’s reasoning or world situations. The world is more complex, more global and more connected.

Politics is theater; of the absurd, of course, but in healthcare, right now we need truth and action, not posturing and spit shine.

So, perhaps my issue wasn’t so much Ms. Clinton’s presentation, but the fact that her appearance was more for celebrity, just like some of the past keynoters at HIMSS conferences have been.

Like several of the sessions featured at the event, Clinton’s lacked substance, depth and detail, and provided little overall value to a deep and detailed conversation.  

I’ve seen Ms. Clinton speak before; in Los Angeles about 16 years ago, when I was more of an idealist. She appeared at a concert for art students alongside Stevie Wonder. The experience still is one of the highlights of my life. It really was quite amazing; inspirational even.

But times have changed, haven’t they Mr. DeTocqueville?

And as far as HIMSS is concerned, perhaps what is needed here are fewer high school-style prep rallies from folks like the Clintons, and instead real thought leadership and insight from those currently acting on their leading thoughts and those taking action on their insight.  

Perhaps my views are simpleton, but I don’t think I’m alone. Contrary to much of the coverage on Ms. Clinton’s performance, I’ve seen many comments around the Interweb that seem to echo my thoughts.  

As I watched her from the HIMSS press room (yes, media were not allowed to sit in on her keynote at HIMSS, even in the age of citizen journalism where everyone snaps photos on their phone and posts to Twitter), I saw a celebrity working a crowd; a rock star, even, like her friend Bono, walking into a room to serenade them. (For the record, I’ve seen him live, too, as well his hypnotic ways once in front of a microphone).

For many of those in attendance, they likely wanted to see the Hillary show. There’s no doubt that she has celebrity attached to her name and that HIMSS felt the future presidential candidate worthy of their time before they couldn’t afford her anymore, and before she didn’t have the time for an appearance given her impending upcoming schedule. Perhaps, also, they’re hedging their bets in the hopes that someday soon they’ll have an even more direct connection to the Oval Office.

Her presentation did not lack performance, only substance.

All of that said, if you’d like to see an unofficial transcript of her presentation, Jane Sarasohn-Kahn provides a pretty good overview.

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