The New 'Comeback' Clinton: From Rival to U.S. Cabinet

Hillary Clinton tells Vogue: "I do make some people uncomfortable."

November 21, 2009, 12:35 PM

Nov. 21, 2009 — -- At the start of the Obama administration nearly one year ago, many wondered how Hillary Clinton -- former first lady and former Obama rival -- would adjust to her new role as secretary of state.

Just a few months ago, Clinton fended off whispers around Washington that she was being sidelined as secretary of state amid an administration full of foreign policy experts and a statesmanlike-president popular abroad.

But a close-up profile in Vogue magazine's forthcoming December issue portrays a content Clinton who seems to have come to terms with her role.

In a 10-page article by Jonathan Van Meter, Clinton talks candidly about how she came to accept her position as the secretary of state, the translation gaffe in Africa last summer, and her thoughts about being a woman and role model.

Since becoming secretary of state, Clinton has shied away from talking about her political future, shooting down any suggestions she is interested in running for the presidency in 2012, or for New York governor in 2010, or is otherwise unhappy working under her former 2008 presidential campaign arch-rival.

But in a Vogue interview, Clinton explains how she almost did not accept the secretary of state job offer: "I did not think it was the right thing to do. I didn't want to do it. I just really had a lot of doubts, and I kept suggesting other people: Well, how about this person! How about that person! This one would be really good! But then a friend of mine called me and basically said, 'How would you have felt if you'd been elected and you'd called him and asked him to do this?' And that really made a big impression on me. How do you say no? And so ... I said yes. And here I am."

Wavering Hillary Clinton Finally Said 'Yes' After Obama Stepped In

Her staffers tell a longer version of the story, Van Meter says. Over a span of about 10 days, Clinton wavered daily, with her male staffers encouraging Clinton to take the job and her female staffers urging her against it.

Advisers Philippe Reines and Andrew Shapiro grew so worried she wasn't going to accept, they lied that it was Vice President Biden's birthday in order to get Clinton to call him and discuss the offer.

In the end, it was President Obama who convinced her.

"'That button got pushed, that we-need-you-to-serve-your-country-button,'" Van Meter quotes an aide as saying.

And as secretary of state, Van Meter writes, she is a rock star. Her mastery of the issues is "dazzling," and crowds meet her everywhere she goes, he says. Indeed, an October Gallup poll showed that Clinton's favorability ratings among Americans had actually surpassed President Obama's, at 62 to 56 percent.

"In Cape Town, she threw a party for the press and drank with the best of us, talking for more than two hours, into the night, with surprising off-the-record candor about everything from her husband to her disdain for certain world leaders. She's fun. She laughs at herself. And she is full of surprisingly sharp, pointy little retorts, barbs, and comebacks," Van Meter writes.

But that doesn't mean Clinton doesn't have her undiplomatic moments. In the Vogue article, Clinton discusses the infamous translation faux pas in Kinshasa, Congo, where she snapped at a student whose question about China and the World Bank was mistranslated to begin as, "What does Mr. Clinton think, through the mouth of Mrs. Clinton ...?"

"I'll tell you, it made me cringe," Van Meter quotes her as saying, "as you saw. And the actual text of the question was pretty clear in the way it was translated. But, you know, it was just one of those moments."

Van Meter describes Clinton as tough and "comfortable with war talk in a boys'-club environment," yet he also describes in detail her clothes, what she has in her makeup bag and what she looks like after a swim in the ocean -– "pretty."

Perhaps is it that type of scrutiny that has led so many women in America to admire and identify with her.

Hillary Clinton in 'Vogue': 'I Challenge Assumptions About Women'

"So many women feel like I'm on their side," Clinton says. "I somehow, through my life or their perception of me, give them courage to do things. And I think it's also that, whether I am meant to or not, I challenge assumptions about women. I do make some people uncomfortable, which I'm well aware of, but that's just part of coming to grips with what I believe is still one of the most important pieces of unfinished business in human history -- empowering women to be able to stand up for themselves."

Read the full article.

See Jonathan Van Meter's photo diary of Clinton.

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