The Secretary of State turns 64 today, but for all the political conflict and personal turmoil she's been through, she may feel a lot older. Forget Sarah Palin and Barack Obama: Over the past couple of decades, Hillary Clinton has easily been the most controversial, polarizing figure in American politics. She's got equally fervent admirers (who think she should have been the 2008 Democratic nominee for President) and detractors (one Internet wit called her Shrillary; other names aren't really printable). She's had to endure the very public humiliation of her husband's infidelity, not to mention the possibly permanent loss of her presidential dream.
But this past year has been surprisingly good for Clinton, who's been an effective (if low-visibility) Secretary of State. In fact, in a recent poll conducted for Bloomberg, she was named the most popular politican in the U.S. Nearly two third of those polled have a positive view of her - a view that, according to Bloomberg, may be driven by "buyer's remorse." In other words, a lot of people think the U.S. would have been better off under Clinton than Obama.
Although in the past she's emphasized the power of diplomacy in defusing political crises throughout the world, Clinton has become outspoken and even a little belligerent in her warnings to countries who might act against the United States. Earlier this week, she said that Pakistan would suffer "dire consequences" if it didn't contain the terrorists based inside its borders. And she's warned Iran not to make any moves against Iraq following the U.S. withdrawal from that country. "We may not be leaving bases in Iraq, but we have bases elsewhere," she said on NBC's "Meet The Press." That kind of tough talk has a lot of appeal for many Americans.
Clinton also seems to have left divisive party politics behind her. She's consistently defended Obama and his presidency. When partisan squabbling in Washington reached new heights (or lows) this past summer, Clinton had no reason to be a part of it. And the fact that she's said she won't be Secretary of State again, or run for the presidential nomination, makes her seem impartial and almost statesmanlike.
But even the most driven public figures need a little good news in their personal lives, and Clinton seems to have had that over the past year. After daughter Chelsea's marriage was rocked by her husband Marc Mezvinsky's leaving Wall Street and heading to a seemingly permanent ski vacation in Wyoming, the marriage is back on track: Mezvinsky's left Jackson Hole and is launching his own hedge fund.
Earlier this month, Clinton accompanied her husband to his nonprofit foundation's tenth anniversary concert, and he ostentatiously praised her from the stage: "I want to thank Hillary because we met 40 years ago this year…She was already doing the kind of work you see here long before it was cool."
It's little wonder that she's literally let her hair down, wearing it in a much more relaxed style than the helmet head she sported during her White House days. No one could say that the job she's got is relaxing, but she's in a lot calmer atmosphere than she's been in over the years.
As for 2012, yes, she says she won't run for the Democratic presidential nomination, that the possibility of that is "less than zero." But who knows? Politics is always changing. Hillary Clinton's public life is proof enough of that.
Let us know. Do You Wish Hillary Had Won?Also Popular On ThirdAge:
5 Right and 5 Wrong Reasons to Get Married
7 Things You Can Do to Build Strong Bones
8 Rules of Thumb for Saving and Retirement