Though Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's return to work next week will be brief, given President Obama’s nomination of John Kerry to replace her as secretary of State, it comes amid an aura of national popularity, respect, and even fascination.
An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll in December found that Secretary Clinton and her husband, the former President Clinton, are America’s two most popular politicians. At the same time, a Bloomberg poll found that 70 percent of Americans view Secretary Clinton favorably – an astounding number given the country’s hyperpartisan divide.
What explains the high-flying ratings enjoyed by Bill and Hill, as Washington columnists prefer to call them?
Some pundits speculate that Secretary Clinton’s “relegation” to the relatively noncontroversial global stage of international issues has allowed her to win approving nods from Democrats and Republicans alike.
Others say it’s simply because the Clintons are so ubiquitous, with Secretary Clinton traveling up a storm representing America to the world and Mr. Clinton holding court during this past election cycle – first at the Democratic National Convention, then on the stump – on behalf of Mr. Obama.
But as The Washington Post noted recently as it marveled over the “good year” the Clintons have enjoyed: “[U]biquity usually breeds fatigue from the public, not more excitement.”
So why doesn't America have Clinton fatigue?
In Secretary Clinton’s case, Americans appear to admire her work ethic and her ability to reinvent herself – and not just to make do with the hand dealt her, but to employ it with a flourish.
In announcing Clinton’s imminent return after being hospitalized for a blood clot, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the secretary is “raring to go.” It may have sounded corny, but it also rang true. Anyone who kept a close eye on Clinton’s daily calendar over the past four years could not help but believe it.
It also sounded right when Ms. Nuland added that Clinton remained “committed to testifying” to Congress on the Benghazi attack, which occurred on her watch and cost the lives of four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens.
And then there is the matter of personal reinvention.
When Secretary Clinton emerged Wednesday from a New York hospital, husband and daughter Chelsea at her side, she smiled behind dark glasses – the same dark glasses, it seems, as the ones she wore in the now-famous photo of her on a military plane looking over her BlackBerry. It was a reminder of the considerable distance traveled from the frumpy pantsuits of her unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign to the “cool Hillary” of 2012 Internet memes.
More substantial, is how she picked herself up from the 2008 defeat and effectively – and cheerfully – put herself at the service of the man who dealt her that blow, in the role of the nation’s top diplomat.
As she visited (and in some cases revisited) the world’s emerging democracies, Clinton must have told a thousand times the story of how, after battling and then losing to then-Senator Obama, she now worked for him – and how overcoming political rivalries for the national good was an essential ingredient of a successful democracy.
That ability to turn her largest political defeat into an asset – the lemons-to-lemonade analogy, to use an old phrase – may be the trait that impresses one most about Clinton.