The football helmet that State Department staffers presented Hillary Clinton upon her return to the office was cute, but only sort of. Same went for the “Clinton” football jersey bearing the number 112. That’s how many countries she’s visited since becoming secretary of state.
Clinton had been away sick for a month. She had suffered a stomach virus, which dehydrated her, which made her woozy, which led to a fall, which caused a concussion, which landed her in a hospital with a blood clot in her head.
No secretary of state had gone to that many countries. In her nearly 1,500 days as America’s top diplomat, Clinton traveled on 401 of them. During one famous 48-hour period, she met with Palestinian officials in Abu Dhabi, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem and, after doing an all-nighter in Morocco, a group of Arab leaders.
Of course, she got sick. Who wouldn’t? Lots of otherwise healthy Americans come down with a nasty bug after just one transatlantic fight to London. Add to that constant time-zone changes, rich banquets, minimal exercise, lack of sleep and stress-filled meetings. Clinton wasn’t there to stroll around museums.
What’s not cute about all this is the underlying — shall we say? — irresponsibility of so overstuffing the agenda. This blows against Clinton’s reputation as the ultimate Responsible One. It’s thus disturbing that many of her admirers portrayed the resulting sickness as a tribute to her work ethic.
Melanne Verveer, a longtime Clinton aide now at the State Department, meant only praise when she said of the secretary of state: “So many people who know her have urged me to tell her not to work so hard. Well, that’s not easy to do when you’re Hillary Clinton. She doesn’t spare herself.”
Yes, she works hard, but doesn’t working smart mean pacing oneself so that you don’t fall apart in the last mile of the marathon? People do get ill through no fault of their own, but Clinton was asking for it.
All that racing around Mideast capitals sometimes took on the air of a personal endurance test rather than effective management of foreign policy. (You’ll note that the Arab-Israeli conflict remains unresolved.)
Make no mistake: Clinton has been a fine secretary of state. Few would argue otherwise. Still, we’re kind of lucky there wasn’t a major new international crisis in December.
It pains me to bring up the woman angle here, but you wonder whether a man would have overscheduled to the point of collapse. (Only one secretary of state exceeded Clinton in the number of miles traveled: Condoleezza Rice.) President Obama tries to make time for exercise and rest, as did President George W. Bush before him. They understand the importance of maintaining their health.
It’s no small irony that Clinton’s recent illness has led some Democrats eager for a strong female presidential candidate in 2016 to start looking beyond Hillary. It may be true that Clinton says she’s not interested in running again, but her medical scare is making some supporters think she means it.
The let’s-find-a-woman people are misguided. I don’t believe in backing candidates on the basis of gender (or race, religion, height or eye color). Hillary Clinton became one of our era’s great political figures for other reasons.
While she will never embody the cool and outward serenity of Barack Obama, Clinton didn’t have to become the spinning top that put her in a sick bed. Even there, she noted — not without pride — her difficulty in becoming a “compliant patient.” If Clinton does run for president, she must show more dedication to self-preservation. Martyrs don’t necessarily make great managers.
Froma Harrop is a syndicated columnist.