July 4 (Bloomberg) -- Will the blond flip and sunglasses be Hillary Clinton’s last fashion statement?
To put it another way: Is being a stellar secretary of State the end of the political line for Clinton? Or will she run for president again, opening more fissures in the glass ceiling in which she made 18 million cracks in 2008?
Clinton’s answer is wistful. She longs for the time “to collect myself and spend it doing just ordinary things,” she said last month. “Like taking a walk without a lot of company.”
For a more satisfying response, tune in to a new show on USA Network premiering July 15 called “Political Animals.” In this season of political dramas (HBO’s “Veep” and “Newsroom”), this one stands out partly because of Sigourney Weaver’s Elaine Barrish, who is a thinly disguised Clinton. Weaver’s Clinton, however, has more troublesome offspring (two sons, one of whom is an addict), a divorce (she dumped her philandering spouse), and snappier dialogue (she asks a dogged female reporter how it feels to win awards for “stepping on the throat of someone else’s marriage”).
If anyone’s life doesn’t need added drama, it’s Clinton’s. That’s TV for you. Before she was the most admired woman in the world, she was the most fascinating one, equally endearing and maddening from the moment she appeared in Life magazine in 1969 after delivering a commencement address at Wellesley criticizing the prior speaker, Senator Edward Brooke.
She went on to become first lady of Arkansas (the first to hold a job outside the mansion, famously leaving her no time to bake cookies and have tea), the first woman to become a partner at the state’s leading law firm, and the first not to take her husband’s name (until he lost re-election and she swiftly deep-sixed the Rodham). As first lady of the U.S., she was the first to run for the Senate (and win) and for president (and lose). Now as the improbable secretary of State in her former opponent’s Cabinet, she has one-name, rock-star status around the world.
So why wouldn’t she take the power accumulated as the most successful female presidential candidate ever -- and run again? Clinton has been coy before; in 2004, she began preparing for the campaign she denied would ever occur. Is she being coy again when she says she wants to kick back and smell the roses (and perhaps a grandchild, should one come along)?
Many think so. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Democratic National Committee Chairman and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and, of course, former President Bill Clinton have mused that she will run. There was even a rumor she might challenge Barack Obama for the 2012 nomination. (Hogwash, her staff said.) Then there was the spate of talk about Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden trading places. (Just as absurd.) Now there is constant musing over what would be the next perfect job for Clinton, as if she’s actively searching. President of the World Bank? Secretary of Defense? Supreme Court justice?
All this speculation is a testament to the remarkable job Clinton has done as secretary of State. She’s still the best student in class, mastering every detail, taking every trip, attending every meeting, not leaving a country until after she has thanked the foreign service staff there.
With the benefit of a serious traveling press corps, she’s shifted attention away from her headband to her head. She reaps much of the credit for handling the Libyan uprising and little of the blame for Iraq and Afghanistan (although Syria looms ready to flummox everyone). The parallel government her detractors said she would set up in Foggy Bottom never materialized. She has been nothing but loyal to the president, and Obama appreciates her all the more as an expert on how to live in the White House fishbowl.
Could it be that suffering has made Clinton whole?
Much of her time in the White House, she was hunted and haunted by forces beyond her control. While she may be sleepless now in multiple time zones, she can rest knowing she’s the master of her fate. She can let go with the big laugh in public that her friends knew in private, toss back Bellinis with journalists in Rome, drink beer and dance with State Department staff in Cartagena. (This last earned her the headline “Swillary” in the New York Post.)
What would have sent her into damage-control mode in the 1990s now makes her want to join in the fun. Take the example of Texts From Hillary, which used a photo of her in big, dark glasses on a big, wide military plane sending a text message as the basis for a Tumblr of made-up captions, mostly to and from celebrities. In one made-up exchange, Obama asks, “Hey Hil, whatchu doing?” “Running the world,” she answers crisply. A concerned citizen writes, “It’s 3 am and I think something’s happening.” Hillary replies, “On it.”
The site became a viral sensation, and instead of protesting it, Clinton got into it. The real “Hilz” texted the site’s founders, saying it had her ROFL and inviting them over for a visit.
What didn’t kill Clinton made her stronger -- and more at peace. In two roller-coaster decades, Clinton has suffered crushingly low poll numbers as first lady, the suicide of her best friend in the White House, her husband’s humiliating affair and impeachment, and her own devastating defeat at the hands of the upstart she now works for. She has discovered other ways to be happy than being president.
Hillary has not only endured, she has prevailed. What comes next in her public life may be less important than what she has found in her inner life.
(Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)
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