Hillary Rodham Clinton says she is not certain what her political future may hold. I not only believe her, but also think the wisest course for her is to take a break from the fray. Few other political figures have earned it more. For more than two decades, she has been living and working under almost unimaginable stress, and she has been doing it with rare grace and often unmatched skill.
Consider the rigors of Clinton's life over the last twenty years. Many psychological rankings of personal stress look something like this:
● Death of spouse
● Serious illness
● Chronically-ill child
● Getting fired
But what if we were to invent a list of the top-ranked political stressors. What might that look like?
● Death of someone under your authority
● A special prosecutor
● Losing a presidential election
● Public humiliation
● Facing a right- wing hate machine 24/7
Clinton's personal stress factors may not have been that high, but her political ones are through the roof. The killing of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and his colleagues in Benghazi, Libya, affected Clinton deeply. That much was clear in her testimony before the Senate last week. She didn’t experience these events simply as a politician, but as a mother and a friend. As first lady, she faced several special prosecutors, the last one, Kenneth Starr, who would have stopped at nothing to humiliate her husband and her family. She lost a long and bitter presidential nomination campaign, and, since the early 1990s, she has had to deal with an industry of Clinton-haters who have accused her, among many other things, of conspiring to kill one of her best friends.
Through it all, she has done some remarkable things: making health care better for millions of children while in the White House, earning the respect of her Republican foes in the U.S. Senate and being an effective advocate for her state when many thought she would go “national,” and as secretary of state, advocating for diplomacy and development as equal in importance to military power in the successful projection of American influence around the globe. She leaves behind a State Department that is stronger and an America more respected than when she entered the building. And she exits the stage as perhaps the most popular political figure in the country. Should she return to it, she will be most formidable. But first, some rest is in order.