Why Hillary Clinton Spent Thursday Talking to Camp Counselors

It was the likely end of a long-standing and lucrative career on the paid speech circuit.

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.— Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was speaking to the South Carolina Republican Party. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was en route to Iowa to speak with local activists. Hillary Clinton, by contrast, was in Atlantic City speaking to fleece-clad camp counselors and administrators.

Behold the lure of money: Clinton was in Atlantic City for the final paid speaking gig on her schedule, bringing to a close a post-State Department lap on the speaking circuit that at times netted her as much as $300,000 a pop.

It was an odd turn for Clinton, who is weeks away from an expected presidential campaign launch in early April—and already dealing with the first major struggles of her candidacy: flaps over foreign donors to the Clinton Global Initiative and her use of a personal email system while serving as secretary of State.

On Thursday, however, none of that was on the agenda while she entertained the New York and New Jersey chapters of the American Camp Association. Instead, she repeatedly turned to a joke about summer camp for politicians.

"As I have gotten older, I have decided we really need camps for adults ... I think we have a huge fun deficit in America," she joked on Thursday. "You can have the red cabin, the blue cabin ... have to come together and actually listen to each other. Wouldn't that be a novel idea?"

In her hour onstage, in a speech and a question-and-answer session, Clinton spoke about the importance of nurturing children and protecting the environment, offering up personal anecdotes about her own and Chelsea's childhoods in the process.

But when you're a former secretary of State, senator, and first lady—as well as the overwhelming favorite to be the Democratic Party's next presidential nominee—politics creeps into everything, and Thursday was no exception. Clinton previewed the kind of message she might have about dealing with Washington dysfunction: It can be fixed only if politicians are willing to build relationships with each other and compromise when necessary, she said.

"If you don't build relationships with people, and all you do is show up to argue "¦ you can't get anything done," she said when asked about how to make progress in DC, citing her own experience working with President George W. Bush to get aid money for New York after 9/11. "And there's been too much of that in the last years."

She added that compromise is an essential part of governing, and that reading she's done about the United States' early years has reminded her that "we've had political disagreements going back to our beginnings."

"I've said many times, the people who claim proudly never to compromise should not be in the Congress of the United States," she said, noting that the Founders knew how to foster "consensus-building." "Because I don't think I, or anybody, has all the answers."

Clinton also said the media, and social media, exacerbate the problem because they "really thrive on conflict."

Compromise "sounds so simple. It is very hard—where you are under 24/7 scrutiny, where everybody is leaking and talking, and all the rest of it—to try and get people to understand what the odds are for getting to a good agreement," she said.

Clinton spoke for about 25 minutes, then answered questions ranging from how she'd like to spend a day at camp to how she's remained "resilient" over the years. Her questioner was Jay Jacobs, a longtime Clinton supporter and donor who owns several camps in the area.

Referencing the Clinton Foundation's "Too Small to Fail" project, Clinton said young children need advocates within their own family to teach them and nurture them at a young age. "For too many families today, that's an extra role that gets added to everything else that's expected," she said. "One of our programs is aimed at helping parents understand they are their child's first teachers, and that part of what they can do which nobody else can do, is to help nurture that child."

Clinton also offered up personal stories about her childhood and her daughter Chelsea's childhood. In her formal speech, Clinton began by telling the story of when Chelsea went off to her first summer camp, a German-language camp. "It was the worst week—I've had a few bad weeks, but it was up there. It was hard," Clinton recounted. "Her father and I take her to this camp "¦ we left her there for a week and then we rushed back, picked her up."

And asked about how she's remained resilient through the years, Clinton said her patience and strength comes from her mother, who had a difficult childhood and early life but encouraged her to "be the lead actor in your own life" in spite of it.

"Whenever I get a little bit, feeling a little sorry for myself, thinking that's not fair, that's not right, I say, 'Look at what my mother went through,' " Clinton said. "I had a very great upbringing, great family, great public education, great opportunities "¦ so I need to give back."

The former Cabinet secretary has two more appearances on her schedule, both unpaid speeches in Washington next Monday. She'll speak at an event hosted by the Center for American Progress and AFSCME, then at the ceremony for the 2015 Toner Prize for political reporting.