Madeleine Albright talks pins, politics during Austin visit

Former secretary of state visits LBJ Presidential Library to kick off ‘Read My Pins’ exhibit.

Madeleine Albright made headlines when she was sworn in as secretary of state in 1997, becoming the highest-ranking woman in the history of the U.S. government at the time. But during those four years as secretary of state under President Bill Clinton and in her time earlier as a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, she also gained attention for a more subtle display of power — using her diverse collection of pins and brooches to send quiet messages about the events of the day.

On Thursday, Albright visited Austin to unveil the LBJ Presidential Library’s new special exhibition, “Read My Pins: The Madeleine Albright Collection,” which will run Saturday to Jan. 21.

“On good days I wore flowers and butterflies and balloons, and on bad days a lot of spiders and voracious animals,” Albright said as she walked through the exhibit Thursday. “You all remember the first President Bush had said, ‘Read my lips, no new taxes’? So I said, ‘Read my pins.’ That’s how the whole thing started.”

The exhibit showcases more than 200 of her statement pieces, ranging from patriotic eagles and American flags to a bee pin she would wear when she intended to deliver a “sharp message.” Each pin is accompanied by a description of where and why Albright chose to wear it.

“The reason this show makes sense at all is each one of the pins does have some message on foreign policy,” said Albright, sporting a Texas-themed pin with boots and a cowboy hat for the occasion. “I have always tried to make foreign policy less foreign and have people understand some of the things that public officials do and the kind of relationships that develop through diplomacy.”

During her time at the library, Albright also shared some thoughts on the country’s current political climate.

“One of the things that people are waiting for, whether it’s on Capitol Hill or the American public or our friends and allies, is what is the overall strategy? ‘Making America Great’ or ‘America First’ is not a strategy,” she said. “I’m hoping (President Donald Trump’s upcoming trip to Asia) will be a mechanism whereby the president and his people will really appreciate the complexity of the issues, how they fit together and the importance of getting the American people to understand what has to be done.”

Albright also expressed concerns that women’s issues are being “pushed back rather than moving forward” and advised women of all ages to find their voice.

“Women have to learn to interrupt,” she said. “And if you’re going to interrupt, you have to listen differently, and you have to know what you’re talking about and say it in a firm voice. You can’t wait to be called.”

She added that she’s hopeful for a future in which the government and the American people embrace civil discourse, respect and understanding.

“I’m such a believer in America, and I do believe we’re an exceptional nation,” she said. “But we can’t ask that exceptions be made for us in terms of how we treat each other, whether we abide by basic human rights rules.”

The LBJ Presidential Library is the final stop for “Read My Pins,” which has been a traveling exhibition for the past nine years. It will next go on permanent display at the U.S. Diplomacy Center in Washington, D.C.

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