For the first time in 34 years, Hillary Clinton will be out of the spotlight - in theory. Yet her every word and action will be followed closely for the next three years, most of all by the Republican party.
"I find myself in a familiar position - that of reacting."
The words are fitting of a Secretary of State, but were in fact spoken by Clinton as Wellesley College's first undergraduate commencement speaker in 1969. They have fit her life well, though.
Excepting a gap of two years, she was a first lady from 1979 to 2001 - first of Arkansas, then America. Before her husband's second term had finished she was off and running (successfully) for US Senate; she spent 2001 to 2009 representing New York. Before that term had ended she had begun campaigning for the Democratic nomination for the US presidency. By mid-November, 2008, she was in negotiations with the man she had lost to, President-elect Barack Obama, to become his Secretary of State.
Now she is sweeping out of the State Department, having set a record for countries visited in a single secretarial term, 112, and with a bout of unconsciousness and a blood clot to show for it. She will then be confronted by something unfamiliar to a woman who has been in the spotlight for 34 years: quiet.
"My advice is that she should rest up and decide what she wants to do with the rest of her life," said Bill Clinton in a recent television interview at the Clinton Foundation's annual conference. "And whether she thinks [running for president] is the right thing for her and for America and for the world…? If she does, she should do it, and if she doesn't, she shouldn't."
The idealist vs. the realist
"Anybody who's spent any time studying Hillary Clinton can say that she is somebody who would like to have been president of the United States," said Nicole Krassas, co-author of "Hillary Clinton: a biography" and a Political Science Professor at Eastern Connecticut State University, in an interview with DW.
That said, her calculus will now have changed, Krassas believes. Where some see a sense of moral duty in Hillary Clinton's decision to run for the presidency - whether for her pet passions of social welfare, women's rights, children and education, or simply because she currently represents the Democrats' best chance at winning - Krassas sees a different calculation.
"If she thought she was going to lose, or that she had a chance of losing the nomination or general election, she wouldn't put her hat in. She's a very practical person and she's been involved in enough campaigns in her life to know when she can win and when she can't."
The sting of 2008's Democratic Primary loss to Barack Obama still remains, the professor believes. There's another issue, as well.
"She'll be 69 in 2016. That's been an issue with John McCain and Bob Dole. So she's also looking at that," Krassas said.
But if Democratic strategists are fretting about whether Mrs. Clinton will run for office, Republicans are already preparing for the inevitable. "The Republican Party is incapable of competing at that level," warned former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich in a reference to the Clintons' combined political and fundraising clout.
Mike Murphy, who advised the candidacies of prominent Republicans such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and John McCain, views Mr. Gingrich's words as hyperbole. "Mrs.Clinton would be a very strong candidate," he told DW. "But no candidate is inevitable, as we learned when she ran and lost to Barack Obama in 2008."
Professor Krassas believes a clue to Mrs. Clinton's decision-making might be seen in the coming weeks. "If we see her getting more involved in social issues it might be a signal that she won't be running," she said. "If we look at how she spent her time as a Senator, it certainly wasn't on those issues."
For the next three years Mrs. Clinton's words and actions will be closely followed. Yet however rational Mrs. Clinton has become in her years of politicking, her decision may not ultimately be based on simple practicalities.
In her own autobiography she spoke of her decision to follow then-boyfriend Bill Clinton to Arkansas - a state with far more limited political prospects than Washington DC. "I chose to follow my heart instead of my head," Mrs. Clinton wrote.
Nor might age prove to be the limiting factor. A 22-year-old Hillary Rodham chose to end her 1969 commencement speech at Wellesley College - a speech that launched her into the national spotlight - with a poem by classmate Nancy Scheibner. It's one that could also sum up her career thus far:
"It is well at every given moment to seek the limits in our lives,
And once those limits are understood,
To understand that limitations no longer exist."
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