Clinton finds peace after struggles

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Will the blond flip and sunglasses be Hillary Clinton's last fashion statement?

To put it another way: Is being a stellar secretary of state the end of the political line for Clinton? Or will she run for president again, opening more fissures in the glass ceiling in which she made 18 million cracks in 2008?

Clinton's answer is wistful. She longs for the time "to collect myself and spend it doing just ordinary things," she said last month. "Like taking a walk without a lot of company."

Before she was the most admired woman in the world, she was the most fascinating one, equally endearing and maddening from the moment she appeared in Life magazine in 1969 after delivering a commencement address at Wellesley criticizing the prior speaker, Senator Edward Brooke.

As first lady, she was the first to run for the Senate (and win) and for president (and lose). Now as the improbable secretary of state in her former opponent's Cabinet, she has one-name, rock-star status around the world.

So why wouldn't she take the power accumulated as the most successful female presidential candidate ever and run again? Clinton has been coy before; in 2004, she began preparing for the campaign she denied would ever occur. Is she being coy again when she says she wants to kick back and smell the roses (and perhaps a grandchild, should one come along)?

Many think so. Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, former Democratic National Committee Chairman and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and former president Bill Clinton have mused that she will run.

All this speculation is a testament to the remarkable job Clinton has done as secretary of state. She's still the best student in class, mastering every detail, taking every trip, attending every meeting, not leaving a country until after she has thanked the foreign service staff there.

Much of her time in the White House, she was hunted and haunted by forces beyond her control. While she may be sleepless now in multiple time zones, she can rest knowing she's the master of her fate. She can let go with the big laugh in public that her friends knew in private, toss back Bellinis with journalists in Rome, drink beer and dance with staff in Cartagena.

What didn't kill Clinton made her stronger — and more at peace. In two roller-coaster decades, Clinton has suffered crushingly low poll numbers as first lady, the suicide of her best friend in the White House, her husband's humiliating affair and impeachment, and her own devastating defeat at the hands of the upstart she now works for. She has discovered other ways to be happy than being president.

Hillary has not only endured, she has prevailed. What comes next in her public life may be less important than what she has found in her inner life.

Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. Email: mcarlson3@bloomberg.net