People don't often make headlines for things they aren't
doing. Yet Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made news
Thursday after telling PBS's Tavis Smiley in an interview
that she did not see herself serving as head of the State Department should Barack Obama be elected to a second term.
"No, I really can't," she said. "The whole eight (years), I mean that would be very challenging. But I... don't want to make any predictions sitting here."
Last October, Clinton found herself in the headlines
when she ruled out the New York races for governor and senator. She has also dismissed another run for the presidency. As she reiterated in Wednesday's interview, she is "absolutely not interested" (scroll to 51:35 in the full interview below for Clinton's discussion of her future plans).
The admission in itself is not unusual - rarely do secretaries of state stay
for a full eight years, and many have not served one full term. However, simply because of who she is, Hillary Clinton's every career move is watched
with great interest (and perhaps some skepticism), particularly by those who believe she may still run for president. Her absence at the State of the Union speech Wednesday night generated buzz
even though she was at an important security conference in London and had spoken directly with President Obama about her attendance beforehand.
Clinton's work abroad has received scattered attention as domestic issues like health care and the economy have dominated the news cycle. Her milestone speech on internet freedom (which I covered
last week) didn't garner huge coverage despite its role in the high-profile spat between Google and China. Lacking any signature policy issues to promote -- the Israeli-Palestinian issue has taken a back seat thus far in the Obama administration, and Iraq and Afghanistan policy is being closely handled by the White House -- Clinton has had trouble "finding her place," as one Reuters report
Though it's hard to judge the impact of her efforts at this point in the term, it's clear that Clinton has been hard at work within the walls of the State Department. According to analysts, Clinton and her team have launched
a revolutionary drive to modernize the department's approach to communication and new media, which they refer to as "21st Century Statecraft." Words like "virtual", "online", and "every tool available" are commonly used by the Clinton State Department.
It's hard for many politicos to imagine Hillary Clinton being content with "going back to private life and spending time reading, and writing, and maybe teaching, doing some personal travel," as she told Smiley. Though she lost the 2008 campaign, Time Magazine annointed
her the "symbol of a movement that has come to represent the hopes and frustrations of millions of working-class Democrats." Should Democrats' discontent with the policies of the Obama administration increase, so may the speculation about her chances
Politically speaking, Clinton's acceptance of Obama's invitation to become Secretary of State was a brilliant move. Without stepping out of political life, Clinton has avoided a Congress where lawmakers have been forced to cast stigmatizing votes on health care, cap-and-trade, bailouts and stimulus bills. Whatever the results of the increasingly uncertain 2010 campaign season, she will likely walk away unscathed.
Did these factors play a part in her acceptance, and will her departure reveal further political ambitions? Might we see 'Clinton 2012: I Told You So' signs in the Democratic primary? No matter how many quotes there are to the contrary, the speculation may prove too tempting to resist. In the meantime, the Secretary of State seems focused on three more years of hard, important work.