Love them or hate them, America's ultimate power couple are also its most effective advocates for liberal internationalism: a vision that government can build prosperity at home and promote democracy and development abroad without demonizing the successful or needlessly antagonizing other countries. It's a different kind of American exceptionalism, based on more than just firepower. And in a U.S. election year that often felt like Randian revanchism vs. opportunistic populism on economics and chest-thumping aggression vs. coldhearted realism on foreign policy, it's no wonder that America is in the grips of a serious case of Clinton nostalgia.
In an ironic twist, Hillary Clinton -- once seen as the calculating cynic to Barack Obama's idealistic optimist -- has emerged as one of the Obama administration's most forceful advocates for human rights and democracy. Clinton, who was among those who led the push for the United States to intervene in Libya last year, remains a relentless campaigner for women's rights and economic development, and she has insisted on the promotion of rights for gays and lesbians as an official component of U.S. diplomacy for the first time. But she has also added hardheaded global tactician to her portfolio, as when she spearheaded tense negotiations in China this past spring for the release of dissident Chen Guangcheng (No. 9). With a 66 percent approval rating, she's a lot more popular than her boss these days and has taken the ups and downs of the Arab Spring -- which she accurately predicted at a time when many others succumbed to starry-eyed wishful thinking -- as proof that her brand of pragmatic politics harnessed to global star power can be a recipe for American restoration.
As for Bill Clinton, he silenced the doubters at the Democratic National Convention with an impassioned speech on Obama's behalf that had many pining for the salad years of the 1990s. Forty-eight minutes long and heavy on statistics and his trademark folksy ad-libs as he made the case for economic revitalization, the speech proved once again that no one in American politics does a better job of "'splainin' stuff" to the public. He's still willing to criticize the president, for example, questioning Obama's assaults on opponent Mitt Romney's business success. And fittingly, Clinton's signature post-presidency achievement, the Clinton Global Initiative, is dedicated to the notion that bringing the world's most powerful and successful people together to work on pressing global problems is more productive than attacking those people. He has been busy on his own innovative projects as well, touring Africa to promote sustainable agriculture and Haiti to discuss alternative energy, periodically dispensing his homespun wisdom along the way. "We have a saying in Arkansas," he told a group of baffled nurses in Kigali, Rwanda. "If you find a turtle on a fence post, he didn't get there by accident."
After four years and a record 112 countries visited (as of writing), Hillary will soon step down as secretary of state. Despite her stated plans to retire from politics as a grandmother-in-waiting, many supporters still haven't given up hope that the Clintons will once again be in the White House come 2016. Only this time, Bill may be the one at home baking cookies.