WASHINGTON (AP) — Crediting their role in the American story, President Barack Obama on Monday praised the nation's "daring, indomitable" women — including the one-time political rival who is now his secretary of state.
"Women like Hillary Rodham Clinton, who, throughout her career, has put millions of cracks in America's glass ceiling," Obama said in the grand East Room packed mostly with women. "It's because of them — and so many others, many who aren't recorded in the history books — that the story of America is, ultimately, one of hope and one of progress, of an upward journey."
Obama and Clinton competed for the Democratic nomination for the White House in 2008. After a fierce, protracted fight, Obama won enough delegates and Clinton conceded. But she didn't exit the race without noting that "although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it."
Obama praised Clinton for her long-standing work on women's rights.
"We're doing all of this not only because promoting women's empowerment is one of the best ways to promote economic development and economic success," Obama said. "We are doing it because it's the right thing to do. I say that not only as a president, but also as the father of two daughters, as a son and a grandson, and as a husband."
In a reception for International Women's Day, first lady Michelle Obama took the opportunity to tweak her husband. "So I get to speak first while he stands and watches. I love this," she said to laughter. "Look at me adoringly," she told him.
"I can do that," Obama said, standing at her side.
Obama returned the humor. He spoke of women like his wife who have looked across the dinner table and thought, "I'm smarter than that guy."
While the reception included light moments — "American Idol" contestant Katharine McPhee blew a kiss in Obama's direction — Obama pledged to work on empowering women both at home and abroad.
"The fundamental truth (is) that in 2010, full gender equality has not yet been achieved; that the task of perfecting America goes on; and that all of us, men and women, have a part to play in bending the arc in America's story upward in the 21st century," Obama said.
The president said the nation's progress thus far was no accident. "It came about because of daring, indomitable women."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.