Last Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told State Department employees that after two decades of walking "the high wire of American politics," she thinks it's time to step off altogether.
Twenty years ago, during Bill Clinton's first presidential bid, 41 percent of the public did not know Hillary Clinton's name -- or did not quite know what to think of her, according to an NBC News poll. Over time, she became a controversial, even polarizing, figure in American politics. Barack Obama famously blundered in a 2008 Democratic primary debate when he told her, "You're likable enough, Hillary."
Clinton's lowest favorability ratings, ranging from 43 percent to 45 percent, were in 1996, 2001 and 2007. But for the other 16 years, the majority of Americans have liked her: On average, she's enjoyed a favorability rating of more than 55 percent. People were just confused on where she should lead.
When President Clinton made his first lady head of the White House's Health Care Task Force in January 1993, 61 percent of the public was OK with it, according to an ABC News poll. By January 1997, however, NBC News reported that 65 percent thought she should not be involved with developing major policy positions in her husband's administration.
But in 1999, as Hillary Clinton's time in the White House was ending, 78 percent thought she'd be an effective senator. She won a Senate seat in New York in November 2000 with 55 percent of the vote. In 2006, she was re-elected by a landslide. Her 2008 presidential campaign didn't end well. Yet when Obama became president, he named her to the No. 3 position in his administration: secretary of state.
It's a role that 72 percent of the public approved of at the beginning of her tenure. And today her favorability rating is at 62 percent -- exactly where it was when she first became a force in American politics in January 1993.
(Katherine Brown is on the staff of Bloomberg View.)