Despite all the admiration she deserves for her dedication and long hours, there is also a vanity of long hours and (in her current job) long miles of travel. You must be very, very important if your work requires you to be constantly flying through time zones to midnight meetings that last for hours. Of course our secretary of state is very important — so why does she have to prove it?
In 1899, the economist Thorstein Veblen wrote a book, “The Theory of the Leisure Class,” which asserted that you prove your status or rank in society by displaying “conspicuous leisure” — that is, how little you appear to work. That may have been true in Veblen’s day, but it surely is not true of the generation of which Mrs. Clinton and her husband are by now the undisputed leaders. (Who else? Nobody is nominating George W. Bush.) For us, the highest form of ritual obeisance is to tell someone, “You must be very busy.”
Travel is an especially good way to stay — and appear — busy. Otherwise, you are at risk of actually being at your desk when someone calls. What could be more embarrassing? I don’t mean to suggest that all or even most business travel, let alone diplomatic travel, is for show. Just that much of it is.