Just as I’m really beginning to sour on the idea of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State– and feeling hopeful that no news organization has yet corroborated HuffPo’s initial report last week that she had been offered the job– The Guardian is reporting today that Clinton plans to accept the job offer. I doubt they’d be reporting this without solid sources, but again, no other organization has confirmed this, so perhaps this storyline will come crashing down in a few days when Bill Richardson is formally announced as Obama’s new Secretary of State.
But like I said, thinking about this over the past couple days, I’ve really started to hate the idea of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. First of all, a lot of Obama’s primary campaign support came from Democrats who wanted to keep the Clintons as far away from the White House as possible. But now he’s voluntarily bringing both of them, along with their unbridled ambition, their penchant for backbiting, and all of Bill’s undisclosed foreign donors into the heart of his administration. If there is a major scandal that brings down Obama in 2012, I can easily see it coming from Clinton’s State Department.
As for the Team of Rivals concept Obama keeps talking about, according to political science professor Stephen Teles, that may be a misreading of history:
I am not at all sure that I understand Obama’s reasoning in considering HRC for Secretary of State, but my gut tells me that we may be seeing an instance where politicians get in trouble through the misplaced use of historical analogy, in this case the “team of rivals.” Abraham Lincoln really had to have a highly inclusive cabinet because: a) the Republican party was still not a completely institutionalized entity, and to keep it together in its first shot at power Lincoln needed all the major figures in the party to be represented and; b) the country was at war–a real war–and that almost always calls for inclusivity, even to the point of having governments of national unity. Neither of these factors apply in this case. Obama has massively more control over the Democratic party than Lincoln did, and while we are in an economic crisis, it’s not nearly as bad as the Civil War or WWII. So the conditions that necessitated a “team of rivals” don’t apply. I’m increasingly wondering if this will turn out to be a “circular firing squad of rivals.”
Not to mention the fact that Americans overwhelmingly voted for undivided government. Butting heads is fine up to a point, as long as all those heads are pointed in the same general direction. With Clinton, nobody knows where her head is at, as it tends to change frequently, dramatically, and without warning, depending on the circumstances. Teles goes on to voice more of my concerns about a potential Secretary of State Clinton:
[F]rankly, I just don’t trust Hillary. There is no evidence based on the historical record that she is a competent manager (and plenty of evidence to the contrary–her campaign and the Clinton health care process are only two examples), or has the best interest of our chief executive at heart. So given that the structural conditions that necessitate a “team of rivals” approach don’t apply, I find the argument for this idea extremely weak.
And that’s really what this all comes down to: Does Obama trust Hillary Clinton? Does he trust her to be the competent manager that she has yet– in 35 years of public service– to show herself to be? Does he trust her not to say one thing to his face and then do her own thing behind the scenes?
Again, the politics of this are brilliant. The move singlehandedly caucus blocks Hillary’s presidential ambitions for the next eight years and moves her and her camp– who might otherwise take it upon themselves to lead the criticism against the White House– firmly into the Obama tent. And it puts the Clinton brand– still beloved around the world– back on American foreign policy. But in practice, it could turn into an unmitigated disaster. I have a feeling that this decision will be seen as the first real turning point of Obama’s first term. Clinton will either be a spectacular success or a spectacular failure. There’s likely no middle ground here.