Friday, November 21, 2008

Analysis: What Just Happened?

From NYT:
Hillary Rodham Clinton has decided to give up her Senate seat and accept the position of secretary of state, making her the public face around the world for the administration of the man who beat her for the Democratic presidential nomination, two confidants said Friday.
Why? Why Hillary Clinton? What is Obama doing? Here are some bullet points, I cannot figure this out for the life of me:

  • She is not bi nor multi lingual;

  • She is divisive, even within her own party;

  • She supported the war that Obama has pledged to 'wind down;'

  • She consistently attacked the person who will be her boss as unfit to lead on 'day one' and sorely lacking in 'foreign relations experience' despite her equivalent shortcomings;

  • She has failed in her largest executive challenges at keeping seasoned bureaucrats and politicians in check (health care and presidential run both a smoldering heap of infighting and executive failure);

  • She's a terrible choice, one who is likely to bring the above 'qualities' into a very bright spotlight and be a distraction from the administration. If there is one thing HRC is not, it is a team player;

  • There were better choices. John Kerry, for example, for whom I am no fan, would have been better. He is multi-lingual, has worked extensively in the international arena, has defense and combat experience, and is only truly divisive to a minority subset of crazed wingnutters who swallowed the swill of the '04 campaign;

  • The argument about the 18 million voters, etc. is a weak one. There are roles that are noteworthy within the administration or the overall government that are not Sec. of State. One example would be the Supreme Court. Sure, HRC lacks any noteworthy legal scholarship, but she was a practicing lawyer and Senator. There must be other justices who have not come from a background of legal scholarship. Such a nomination would give her power, while taking her out of politics and the spotlight for the rest of her life. It's perfect. There are other roles too, but not Sec. of State;

  • This boggles my mind, I am angry and ranting. I apologize. If anyone can help explain this choice, can speak to what Obama is thinking, please, help!


  1. I don't find several of your points very persuasive. For one thing, there's no vacancy on the S.C. just now --parking people for future needs is not strategy. For another, yes, there are always other choices, better than Kerry, a stuffed shirt who happens to be bilingual (I can hear Pericles saying, "He speaks French. Of course!") but who has the reputation of being the most inept of politicians (if we need reminding!), and good political skills are needed at State. The "divisive" comment could apply equally well to, say, Rahn Emanuel; it's not a disqualification when you are not charged with unifying a party, which she will not be.

    I think your personal distaste for H.C. is showing here. I am not a particular fan of hers; but she is smart, hardworking, committed, and capable of achieving a depth of understanding of other people's problems (witness the outstanding success, in upstate NY, of her first Senate campaign). These traits will be valuable to Obama, whose presidency looks to be mainly about domestic issues, at least for the first couple of years. And I think Obama respects her.

    Tell me, Jumco, if the election had been between McCain and Hillary, how would you have voted?

    Clinton's positives:

    * She is conversant with foreign policy issues (although she cannot see Russia from her suburban home), and has been in scores of countries and met their leaders (and their schoolchildren; and their snipers?). That counts for something.

    * Taking her out of the Senate removes one high-profile source of potential disruption to Obama's program. Can you imagine her role in a Senate debate on health care reform? As a cabinet officer, she serves at his pleasure. If she screws up, she'll be Mrs. Clinton again.

    * "Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer." Neither Hillary nor Bill can do much damage, in general, to Obama if she is in such a position.

    * To elaborate the previous point: as is already being remarked in the press, Obama, never much of a radical (regardless of the wingnuts and their tirades), is going to govern from the center, certainly more so than the left wing of his party would like. With John Edwards protecting his "private" life these days, Hillary is one other potential leader of a revolt from the left who will now be neutralized: no speeches by her on domestic issues for Obama to worry about. No upstaging of Obama by Hill and Bill, as Obama upstaged her, when his popularity inevitably declines as a result of the natural process of governing. I suspect that, as part of the price for the nomination, Hillary had to deliver to Barack the handle of the nutcracker that she keeps firmly affixed around Bill's testicles --the metaphorical ones, I mean; no one much cares anymore about his real ones. And I suspect that Barack has a better grip than Hillary does.

    Finally, I think we should admit that Obama hasn't made many serious missteps, so far; he has some very brainy and politically savvy advisors; he has outstanding political instincts. We should do what the Senate will do, and defer to the new President's wishes where there is no obvious disqualification.

    And, Pericles, it was Achilles who sulked in his tent: sarcasm is unbecoming at this stage of the process.

  2. Tony, I find your question insulting. I would have voted for Clinton, as stated nearly 22 months ago when I decided to support Obama. I said that I supported Obama for the following reasons, but would vote for HRC if she won the nomination. I do not have a personal distaste for HRC.

    I agree with you when you say that she is competent, hard-working, and has 'good political skills.' I hold that none of the points I listed contradict that sentiment. Having 'good political skills' did not stop her from bungling the execution of her health care initiative in the early 90s nor stop the outpouring of infighting during her presidential campaign. The State Department is significantly large and more complicated than either of those endeavors.

    I also do not believe that she is the best person for the job at State. Rahm Emanuel's job as Chief of Staff is to be divisive, cold, calculating and 'the President's Resident Asshole;' he fits his role-to-be perfectly. The Sec. of State's role is to be the world's most sophisticated diplomat, not to be divisive; HRC doesn't fit in this regard.

    It is widely expected that there will be one, if not two seats available on the SC shortly after the first 100 days, possibly during them.

    Your third point is the first explanation I've heard so far that comes close to justifying HRC in State. It does not, however, require State to be done. Any high-level, non-domestic policy, position will do. Given the state of contemporary affairs, I feel that HRC as Sec. of State is less than ideal for HRC, the Obama administration, and the United States.

    For some historical perspective, I am linking to an interesting Op-Ed in the NYT of the 19th.

  3. I would rather see her as President than a S. Ct. Justice. Four and out as opposed to lifetime tenure.

  4. I don't think she would write poor quality decisions or evidence poor quality judgment as a justice. Sure, she is likely to be a bit corporate-friendly for my tastes, given her DLC background, the way she funded her campaign, and her overall political worldview; but, I could live with that.

    As I've already noted, she does not fit perfectly, without noteworthy legal scholarship, but she does fit. She is bright, thoughtful, and does have a strong grasp of this country's traditions and temperament. I have no grudge with HRC; but I do not think she makes a strong fit for State.

  5. Pericles, I missed the final word of your initial comment (lots of blank space precede it); it clarifies your position quite well. I think. I hope you feel better soon.

    Jumco, you take offense too readily: my question about your vote, of course, was rhetorical, and was designed to calm you down. Why the rant? If Kerry was the one who jumped to mind as an obviously preferable candidate, you cannot have had a strong opinion on the subject. Therefore I concluded that your concern was principally anti-HRC.

    To recapitulate, your objections were (1) her lack of foreign language skills, which would have disqualified, probably, most of the people who have held that post; (2) she does not agree with Obama on some questions of foreign policy; (3) she played political hardball when running against Obama (so what?); (4) she's "divisive," she's "a terrible choice," and there were better choices. She may be "divisive," but that does not mean that appointing her was a divisive step for Obama to take --one could argue the opposite.

    Finally, and this is probably the most important point, she's a bad manager. Condi Rice suffers from the same shortcoming, by the way; but Obama is an excellent manager, and so will have to shore up her department in that regard by choosing the right under- (or under-under-) secretary.

    This list is not so overwhelming, it seemed to me, as to justify what you yourself characterized as a rant.

    But I did look again at the NYT op-ed piece about Lincoln. To agree that Lincoln was a great president (as opposed to a great man), one has to believe that the Civil War was a well-chosen conflict. I do not hold that opinion; and I blame Lincoln for some of the most fundamental social and political problems we face today. But setting that aside, the rather detailed analysis of his cabinet seems to me to bear little relevance to Obama's situation.

    Finally, and back to the subject: no one could seriously consider Hilary Clinton as appropriate in temperament or experience for the Supreme Court. In our history, only one President has ever served on the S.C., and I think that is, at least partially, due to the great differences between what is required for judicial temperament at the highest level and the characteristics of people who rise to such a high position (including defeated major candidate) in the political branches. The low esteem in which the current Court is held by many people derives partly from the perception that it is overly politicized.

  6. >>>I don't think she would write poor quality decisions . . .<<<

    Now there's a high standard!


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