You don't say (and now I wish I didn't)

>> Friday, November 21, 2008

UPDATE:Well, never mind then--that's what I get for being clever. I decide to finally let slip with the suspicion that President-Elect Obama's floating of Senator Clinton is really a masterful political ploy the same day the news comes out that it's official and she's set to take it.

It's not a bad thing to be wrong. I said in the original post and comments that it would be "win-win" and no loser if the President-Elect offered and Senator Clinton declined, but that wasn't strictly true: you can make a case that the American people would collectively lose out: as angry as I've sometimes been with the Senator from New York over the past year, I was angry in part because a woman I respected and admired was (in my view) stooping to the gutter and exploding her credibility.

That was then, this is now. Senator Clinton's a brilliant woman, an attorney who (like the President) attended a top-notch law school, has a lengthy history of public service and social activism. And if she is passed by the Senate as Secretary Of State (which seems likely), she's well-recognized on the international stage and known for taking leadership positions on global issues. Should the President-Elect fully utilize her skills and experience, the presumptive future Secretary Of State and Vice-President-Elect will make a formidable team when it comes to the work that is before us in restoring America's credibility and any leadership position we might have in the world. (The fact that the President-Elect himself already has been advanced a certain degree of credit in this department in parts of the world doesn't hurt either: it seems people in parts of the Middle East and Africa are celebrating the election of a leader with whom they feel a common bond. Let me add, perhaps unnecessarily, that this is one of the most exciting things about our new leader: when was the last time, if ever, an American President had such potential to be embraced as not just America's leader, but the world's? JFK, possibly? Sort of?)

In any case, what follows is now an obsolete historical curiosity, left up for posterity. And, by the way, Senator Clinton had better be confirmed by the Senate and sworn in. Because if I have to eat crow again, I shan't be pleased by it.




Over at Slate, one of their bloggers has finally noticed. Melinda Henneberger writes:

So as I'm reading how Bill Clinton is making himself all kinds of amenable so that Hillary can say yes to running the State Department, it at long last occurs to me that Obama's job offer to her might not be the total madness I took it for... maybe Obama has reason to believe that in the end, Hubby Bubba can't open all the books for all the world to see? And if that's the case, then instead of being a chump he's making the world's most magnanimous gesture at absolutely no cost to himself or the country.


Let me say this at the outset: I think Senator Clinton is actually an extremely well-qualified candidate for the job of Secretary Of State. She's smart, savvy, well-recognized on the international stage and has a firm grasp of policy. And while I think Senator Clinton probably can work as a team player, I also think it doesn't matter--that is, I'm not worried about Senator Clinton "going rogue" considering President-Elect Obama's proven discipline and control of his team and given that he's clearly chosen a Vice-President who will be taking a strong leadership role in Obama's foreign policy. There's a very real chance of President Obama's Secretary Of State, whoever it might be, being--I don't want to say "marginalized," necessarily, but certainly less-influential than some have been.

But having said that, I'm skeptical it will happen. And, at the risk of sounding a bit like an ass, I've been skeptical for a little while now even if I've been keeping mum about it. The Henneberger post is sort of a chance to break that silence and stick my neck out a little.

One of the things that's been a pretty big deal for the Obama transition team has been full disclosure and ethical transparency. Yes, everybody who gets elected says they'll do that, and we'll see if the Obama administration really goes through with it, but the point is that the Obama transition team has been pretty adamant about the vetting of potential cabinet members, including opening the nominee's financials. This has led to quite a lot of questions about the donations former President Clinton has received, and a great deal of speculation about what might be disclosed during Senator Clinton's vetting for the State position.

And I'm thinking it won't happen.

Allow me to add to the speculation and proclamations from the nether regions: I don't think the Clintons are likely to go through the scrutiny (even if there's nothing really improper about their financials--I mean, who knows what's actually in there and it's only a general presumption that it's bad), and I don't think stepping from being a kind of big shark in the Senate pond to being a mid-sized fish in the Obama fishtank is going to be worth the grief. So here's my prediction, which I hate to make because I might well be completely, totally, utterly wrong: I fully expect President-Elect Obama to publicly confirm that his meeting with Senator Clinton was to discuss taking her on as Secretary Of State, and for Senator Clinton to publicly announce that after a great deal of consideration, she's decided she can serve a greater purpose by continuing to serve New York and the nation in the U.S. Senate and she's very honored, etc.

President-Elect Obama isn't stupid. And, for better or worse, he comes from a city that's legendary for its politics--it's arguable Chicago is the most political city in the country after DC, and inarguable that Chicago politics is a full-contact sport that combines the speed and tactics of Obama's beloved basketball with the good manners, sportsmanship and class of the ancient Roman gladatorial arena. I think he knows Senator Clinton will turn down the job if he offers it, and I think Senator Clinton, who's brilliant and who's almost Chicagoan in her political savvy, knows she can't take it. And I think they each know what the other knows, and knows that they know they know, and all that fun matryoshka jive.

But who loses if she can't take it? Nobody, that's who. President-Elect Obama looks magnanimous and classy, with an eye for talent, and Senator Clinton saves face and gets to be the honored invitee who could say "no." And then Senator Clinton can go back to contemplating her 2012 chances and President-Elect Obama can go about announcing his first choice for the job.

Of course, I've been wrong before.

10 comments:

Nathan Friday, November 21, 2008 at 12:34:00 PM EST  

I'm slapping myself in the forehead because this had not occurred to me. Yeah, you could be wrong. But there's a really good chance you're not.

Leanright,  Friday, November 21, 2008 at 1:12:00 PM EST  

I too, believe Senator Clinton is a good fit in the Obama Administration. She is certainly a familiar face around the world, and many world leaders admire and respect her.

Question: What is your thought on Robert Gates potentially remaining as Secretary of Defense, even if for just a little while? I'm curious as to the viewpoint of an Obama supporter. (Yes, it IS a legitimate question).

Eric Friday, November 21, 2008 at 1:22:00 PM EST  

I haven't really given any thought to Gates continuing to serve at Defense. If your question, Leanright, is one about whether or not I'm opposed to Republicans serving in the Obama cabinet, I'm not. Nor am I necessarily opposed to capable members of the Bush cabinet remaining in place if Obama feels it's appropriate for them to do so.

I cannot, at the moment, think of any criticisms of Gates as Secretary Of Defense that aren't really criticisms of Bush Administration policy, and I don't have any sense that Gates is helping to set Administration policy as his predecessor did. I'm certainly open to hearing the opinions of those with a little more expertise.

All of that may be beside the point of the post: while I agree with your first paragraph about Senator Clinton, Leanright, I'll be genuinely surprised if it happens. My expectation, like I said, is that Obama will graciously offer and Clinton will graciously decline, and warm fuzzies will be had by all.

Jim Wright Friday, November 21, 2008 at 2:32:00 PM EST  

Your thoughts on this subject parallel mine to some extent, Eric.

However, there is another possibility. Obama seems to have a very good grasp of the primary problems with the current administration: to wit, a homogeneous viewpoint prone to being yes-men. Obama may have forwarded Clinton based on the fact that she is very likely NOT to fall into the role of sycophant. His choice of Biden would also seem to indicate this and so would retention of the republican Gates as SecDef to some extent. Obama doesn't seem intimated by viewpoints or politics different from his own, and in fact seems to welcome them as a stimulus to finding real solutions. Of course the danger is that the administration will disintegrate into hair pulling and name calling - but with strong leadership that tendency can be mitigated. If so, an Obama cabinet will be a major improvement over the currently limited, deliberately limited, pool of advice and leadership.

As to Gates. Well, I worked for him and he's a marked improvement over his arrogant, bullheaded, elitist predecessor - whom I also worked for. I do think Gates is just a bit too passive, though that may be only in comparison to Rumsfeld. The military does need to transform, Rumsfeld was right about that - however Rumsfeld's arrogant methodology was massively flawed. Rumsfeld placed his foundation on technology, and wanted to remove people from the loop as much as possible - his basic doctrine was best defined as "do more with less" and less being less people. Ultimately war is a human endeavor and humans fight it - they cannot be removed from the loop especially the part of the OODA loop that requires human intelligence, insight, daring, risk assessment, and innovation. You must take and hold ground, technology may help you do that, but you cannot win solely by firing tomahawks at the target. Don't get me wrong, tomahawks and hellfires and predators and the rest of it are powerful tools - but you can't build those and ignore bulletproof vests and boots. Gates seems to understand this and has worked hard to implement transformation - but, with an eye to reality on the ground. However again, there's still far far too much emphasis on big and expensive technology acquisitions that really have no use in the types of conflicts we face (F-22, CVX, CGX, B2 and etc). Too much of the military is driven by selfish shortsighted pork barrel nonsense and Gates has been far too passive in standing up to Congress and the White House about it.

On the other hand, the military is engaged in conflict at the moment, and no matter what Obama's intentions to resolution of that conflict, he'll need continuity. The biggest danger to the military in the coming months is radical and unpredictable change to the OPLAN. Changes need to happen, don't get me wrong, but there must be continuity, or the military becomes vulnerable to adversary action - and trust me here, the adversary knows this and is awaiting that opportunity. We can't give it to them. Retention of Gates provides that during the Administration transition and that is absolutely necessary.

Random Michelle K Friday, November 21, 2008 at 3:02:00 PM EST  

Well, you got it Eric. Looks like she took it.

And I think it's a good idea for Obama to follow in the steps of Lincoln here. After all, keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.

Eric Friday, November 21, 2008 at 3:06:00 PM EST  

Thanks for the input on Gates, Jim!

I agree with you that Obama will utilize differing opinions: one of his favorite books appears to be Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team Of Rivals (time for me to pull that out of the big pile o'pending reading where it's been lying fallow!), an acclaimed account of how Abraham Lincoln brilliantly brought together a cabinet of capable men who all wanted his job and were capable of performing it, many of them ideological enemies. Hopefully, the President-Elect will make it work and repeat the success Lincoln had with that strategy.

We'll see how things resolve themselves. Senator Clinton is a strong candidate if it's a serious tender. And if it's not a serious tender, floating her is a massively-brilliant stroke of political genius that's win-win for everybody.

Eric Friday, November 21, 2008 at 3:08:00 PM EST  

Well, ignore my last paragraph there--thanks for bringing that to my attention, Michelle.

Nathan Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 8:13:00 AM EST  

OK, fine. It looks like a done deal now. I still think Eric's insight was valid and I still prefer Hillary for Supreme Court.

The following is only On Topic because it involves going out on a limb with no real evidence to back up what I'm floating.

I don't know if any of you have been following the story about the eight year old kid in Arizona who was charged with killing his father and a boarder in the home earlier this week. Much of the coverage involves whether or not cops were out of line questioning the kid without anyone else present.

As of this morning, Prosecutors are dropping the murder count for the father's killing (with the option to refile).

I'm betting that it will come out that the father was shot more than once. I'm betting that the story is going to change into: The boarder shot the father, put down the rifle; the kid picked it up and killed the boarder then shot the father "because he was suffering" (part of his statement in the questioning).


That's my pull-it-out-of-my-ass prognostication.

Eric Saturday, November 22, 2008 at 11:36:00 AM EST  

No problem with the hijack, Nathan--seems like it's been awhile since you completely hijacked a thread. Have you been feeling okay? I know you ate something recently that might have made you really sick. Then again, eating it might have been a sign you were already sick. :-)

I haven't followed the Arizona story because the headlines were enough to make me think the story would only make me angry or sad.

I will say this, however: police interrogation of an eight-year-old without a parent or guardian present is completely out of line. I'm also happy to say it's illegal in North Carolina for the police to question a child that age while he is in custody in North Carolina unless a parent or guardian is present. (Naturally, whether or not the suspect is in custody is always a murky point.)

I don't know Arizona's laws (NC has additional statutory protections for juveniles that have been interpreted by the courts here to apply through age 18, even though 16 and 17 year olds are automatically charged and tried as adults here) that go beyond the protections afforded by the Constitution, but it may be that the prosecutors in Arizona realized they were going to have problems getting the child's statements into evidence regardless.

Another possibility is that the charge was dropped to keep the kid in the juvenile system--e.g. in NC, a charge of first-degree murder must be transferred to Superior Court for trial as an adult if probable cause to believe the offense occurred is found by the judge, no exceptions. The child wouldn't be subject to the death penalty, but he would be facing life in prison.

Or you could be right. We'll see,

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