As war rages on several fronts and much of the Middle East and northern Africa is in turmoil, the most popular figure in the Obama administration is Hillary Clinton – an activist Secretary of State who seems to be all over the world, participating in if not directing every aspect of US foreign and military policy.
Secretary Clinton has been a chief spokesman for President Obama’s position on Egypt and Libya as well as a behind-the-scenes force in getting the United States to lead a coalition of nations providing the bombs and missiles necessary to keep the Libyan rebels from being overwhelmed by the forces of Muammar Qaddafi.
Apparently, most Americans approve.
Gallup reported this week that Clinton's favorable rating is now 66 percent, up from 61 percent last July and her highest rating to date while serving in the Obama administration. She’s rated more positively than Obama (54 percent), Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (52 percent), and Vice President Joe Biden (46 percent).
“Clinton's popularity may be partly due to the nature of the secretary of state position, which is somewhat above the fray of partisan politics and focused on defending US interests globally,” writes Lydia Saad of the Gallup polling organization. But Ms. Saad also notes that Clinton “is seen in a favorable light by 45 percent of those who separately say they disapprove of the job Obama is doing as president.”
Free from the need to deal with domestic issues or the rough-and-tumble of economic and budgetary matters, Clinton is not tethered to Washington.
“Two years into her tenure as America’s 67th secretary of state, she has out-traveled every one of her predecessors, with 465,000 air miles and 79 countries already behind her,” reports Newsweek in a recent lengthy piece headlined “The Hillary Doctrine.” “Her Boeing 757’s cabin, stocked with a roll-out bed, newspapers, and a corner humidifier, now serves as another home as she flies between diplomatic hot spots, tackling the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, tensions with Iran and North Korea, the Arab-Israeli peace process, and, now, the serial Middle East upheavals.”
If there is a “Hillary Doctrine,” it’s the betterment of conditions for girls and women around the world.
In part, that may explain the gender gap in her approval rating. Seventy-two percent of women view her favorably, compared with 59 percent of men. This is especially true of her own cohort; 77 percent of women 50 and older hold a positive view.
Clinton has been a polarizing figure – particularly early in the presidency of her husband, Bill Clinton.
Conspiracy theories swirled about her involvement in the death of deputy White House counsel Vince Foster (which had been ruled a suicide), her legal work on behalf of a failed savings and loan institution, and her appointment as head of the Task Force on National Health Care Reform early in her husband’s first term.
Her favorability rating those days was down in the mid-40s.
When Bill Clinton first became involved in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, she laid the charges to “a vast right-wing conspiracy.” But when then president Clinton admitted the affair and the House voted to impeach him, most people perceived her as the victim of adultery.
At a time when she was viewed sympathetically, her favorability rose to a high of 67 percent. But it dropped it again when she first ran for the US Senate from New York – some saw her as a carpet-bagger, as had been the view of Robert F. Kennedy when he won his Senate seat there in 1964 – and during the contentious 2008 presidential campaign.
Since then, her leadership within the administration and her relentless work on behalf of the United States around the world has brought her solid prominence and high regard – both among world leaders and on Capitol Hill. She follows two other women who served as secretary of state and enjoyed favor with the public: Condoleezza Rice and Madeleine Albright.
Clinton has ruled out serving another term as secretary of state in an Obama administration, fueling speculation about presidential ambitions for 2016.
“While Clinton's broad appeal would seem an auspicious foundation for seeking the White House, the presidential track record of secretaries of state is not,” observes Gallup’s Saad. “The last time a former secretary of state won the presidency was James Buchanan in 1856.”