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October 18, 2012

Is This Really Goodbye?

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Defectors from Hillaryland are a rare species, which helps explain the epic dust storm kicked up by "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," last summer's cover story in The Atlantic written by Anne-Marie Slaughter, Clinton's former director of policy planning, in which she explained why she felt obliged to quit Clinton's staff. When I asked Clinton about Slaughter's claim that "juggling high-level governmental work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible," Clinton's disapproval was palpable. She reminded me that she has spent her career advocating on behalf of women, that she is committed to the idea that "it's important for our workplaces ... to be more flexible and creative in enabling women to continue to do high-stress jobs while caring for not only children, but [also] aging parents." But, she said, Slaughter's problems were her own. "Some women are not comfortable working at the pace and intensity you have to work at in these jobs ... Other women don't break a sweat. They have four or five, six kids. They're highly organized, they have very supportive networks." By all accounts, this was precisely the kind of mother Clinton was to Chelsea—hands-on, prioritizing her child, and yet ever committed to work.

Clinton has very little patience for those whose privilege offers them a myriad of choices but who fail to take advantage of them. "I can't stand whining," she says. "I can't stand the kind of paralysis that some people fall into because they're not happy with the choices they've made. You live in a time when there are endless choices ... Money certainly helps, and having that kind of financial privilege goes a long way, but you don't even have to have money for it. But you have to work on yourself ... Do something!"

It's a credo Clinton lives by, though certainly anyone would sympathize had she responded to her peculiar circumstances with paralysis. But wallowing (or "whining," for that matter) has never been her thing. That's never been more evident than it is these days, as her capacity to convert bitter enemies into staunch admirers continues to surprise, no matter how many times she pulls off the trick. Reviled as a carpetbagger in her 2000 senatorial campaign, she trundled around upstate New York on a much-derided "Listening Tour," yet swept into office with a resounding 55 percent of the vote, a darling of dairy farmers in Oneida County and liberals on the Upper West Side alike. Of course, it wasn't just her platform that won them over. Does anyone really think she'd have been elected had she not worked her way into the public's heart as a woman wronged, a wife exemplifying the best kind of grace under the worst kind of pressure? But once in the Senate, she proved a deft politician, deploying an astonishingly effective strategy of respectful submission. Even Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the House members who managed her husband's impeachment trial, has nice things to say about her. ("She handles herself in a very classy way and has a work ethic second to none.") And again, in 2008, after one of the ugliest presidential primaries in memory, replete with competing (and too often justified) allegations of racism and sexism, she became an Obama stalwart and the most popular member of his cabinet—more popular, by far, than he.

Clinton is open about the fact that it was her celebrity that inspired President Obama to insist that she take the job of secretary of state, over her own reservations. ("I said, 'No, no, no!'") The president offered her the post, she told me, because he needed to send out onto the international stage a person whose very presence would signal the importance the U.S. places on diplomacy and international cooperation. A person who brought with her the klieg lights of the international media. "He came into office at a time of such economic distress," she told me. "He had his hands full with trying to save the economy. And he knew that we had so much damage to repair around the world in foreign policy. I think that the president rightly concluded that 'I'm not going to be able to do this, so I've got to have somebody who already has an international platform ... somebody who would be able to get every door open.'" Clinton was in many ways the only choice. What other statesman (besides her husband) was as famous as Barack Obama?


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