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August 21, 2014

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Clinton takes a bow, but can she take a nap?

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Friday was Hillary Clinton’s final day at the State Department. As we’ve all been reminded, over the past four years she’s traveled 956,733 miles to 112 countries in order to conduct 1,700 meetings with world leaders. While consuming 570 airplane meals.

It’s exactly what you would have expected her to do. This is the woman who ended her career as a U.S. senator by announcing: “I’ve had a lot of fun. Eight state fairs, 45 parades, 62 counties, more than 4,600 events across the state.”

And then, of course, there was the race for president, in which she campaigned through 54 primaries and caucuses. After she lost, she urged her followers to take a break and “go to the beach.” But she went out and campaigned for Barack Obama. And then to the Cabinet and the 112 countries.

So it’s understandable that people are questioning how long the resting part of her future will last. There is already a Hillary-in-2016 PAC. Although Clinton has nothing to do with it, she could certainly stop it, as she could end all the presidential speculation by simply saying that she would not, under any circumstances, accept a nomination. She hasn’t.

But we really ought to get through the first year of President Obama’s second term before we declare him a lame duck and start discussing a replacement.

Meanwhile, if the past several decades are any indication, whatever Clinton does will involve extraordinarily diligent-but-unglamorous work, coupled with occasional hair-raising disasters, which she will overcome with a steely resolve that will make the world swoon.

Her departure from the job has been of the pattern. There was the virus, followed by fainting, fall and blood clot. Followed by high-decibel Senate hearings in which the administration’s failings during the run-up to the tragedy at Benghazi were overshadowed by clips of the secretary swatting back snarling Republican senators while wearing large new eyeglasses to control her concussion-related double vision.

And there was the inauguration, when Bill and Hillary Clinton were photographed chatting with the former vice-presidential candidate and current White House scourge, Paul Ryan. “We were just kind of chumming it up,” Ryan told “Meet the Press.” He then went on to say that if only the country was under a “Clinton presidency,” the fiscal crisis would be fixed. It was not entirely clear which Clinton he was talking about. Didn’t entirely matter.

All this was followed by the joint interview with the president on “60 Minutes,” in which Obama effused that “Hillary will go down as one of the finest secretaries of state we’ve had.” Take that, John Quincy Adams!

He called her “a strong friend.” She called him “a partner and friend.” (In the outside world, they get along fine. But, as Clinton once said in an interview, “We don’t hang out.”) Then on to a seemingly endless set of farewell appearances, including a global town hall, in which she answered a question about “the future of the mineral resources in Antarctica.”

Meanwhile, Tim Geithner retired as Treasury secretary. Did you notice?

Even though she’s probably not going to go home and rest on her laurels, she really does deserve a chance to nap on them. Clinton is 65, and she’s spent the last section of her life working with and competing against people who are generally much younger than she is.

Once, during the presidential race, she told me that she liked seeing me on the campaign plane because it was the only time there was somebody her own age on board. “I just had to tell people what Sputnik was,” she reported.

Women of Clinton’s generation have a special bond with her because she encapsulates their story. She spoke for their rebel youth at her Wellesley graduation, demanding “a more immediate, ecstatic and penetrating mode of living” than the older generation ever knew. (Was she imagining that it would include 570 airline meals? The Idaho caucus? Eight state fairs?)

Then Hillary Rodham became Hillary Clinton, the wife who worked to support the family and her husband’s dreams. But somehow, thanks to her talents and work ethic, she wound up getting a much more spectacular professional life than she could ever have achieved with a normal career trajectory. When she campaigned for the Senate, you could see crowds of middle-aged women cheering like kids at a rock concert for one of their own, who had confirmed their private yearnings for a second, or maybe third, act.

And then there was the first-woman-president dream, which didn’t happen. But she turned the failure into something so positive that it felt like a success. Now her diplomatic period is over. Being Hillary Clinton, she’ll never look back and wonder how many of those 1,700 meetings she could have skipped without endangering the stability of the planet.

No regrets. Onward and upward.

Gail Collins is a columnist for The New York Times.

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  1. Nice comments but severely flawed by mutual admiration. Facts: Hillary was the CEO of the State Department and it screwed up for a year on security in Benghazi, Libya including an . The screw up caused the murders of 4 American heroes on 9-11 including an Ambassador Chris Stevens. Her comments to the Board of Directors and shareholders [Congress and the American people]: "What difference does it makes." Answer: All the difference in the world. History will be her judge.

    CarmineD