Published in the New York Post on November 23, 2008
It is still hard to believe but, if Hillary Clinton’s “confidantes” are to be trusted, Barack Obama is about to appoint her secretary of state and she is about to accept. This appointment represents the capstone of betrayal of Obama’s promise to be the “change we can believe in.”
Having upended the Democratic Party, largely over his different views on foreign policy and the war in Iraq, he now turns to the leader of the ancient regime he ousted, derided, mocked and criticized to take over the top international-affairs position in his administration.
No longer, apparently, does he distrust Hillary’s “judgment,” as he did during the debates when he denounced her vote on the Iraq War resolution. Now, all is forgiven. After all, Obama’s election, the only change he apparently truly believed in, is a fait accompli.
Apart from the breathtaking cynicism of the appointment lies the total lack of foreign-policy experience in the new partnership. Neither Clinton nor Obama has spent five minutes conducting any aspect of foreign policy in the past. Neither has ever negotiated anything or dealt with diplomatic issues. It is the blonde leading the blind.
And then there is the question of whether we want a Secretary of State who is compromised, in advance, by her husband’s dealings with repressive regimes in Kuwait, Kazakhstan, Dubai, the UAE, Morocco, and governments about which we know nothing. These foreign leaders have paid the Clinton family millions of dollars E2 directly and through their library and/or foundation – funds they can and have used as personal income. How do we know that she can conduct foreign policy independently even if it means biting those who have fed her and her husband?
But the most galling aspect of the appointment is that it puts Obama in the midst of an Administration which, while he appointed it, is not his own. Rather he has now created a government staffed by Clinton people, headed by Clinton appointees, and dominated by Hillary herself. He has willingly created the same untenable situation as that into which Lyndon Johnson stepped when JFK was assassinated in 1963. Johnson inherited a cabinet wholly staffed by Kennedy intimates with Bobby himself as Attorney General. LBJ had no choice and had to spend two years making the government his own. But Obama had all the options in the world and chose to fence himself in by appointing Hillary as Secretary of States, Clinton cabinet member Bill Richardson for Commerce, Clinton staffer Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff, Clinton buddy (and top lobbyist) Tom Daschle to HHS, and Bill’s Deputy Attorney General, Eric Holder, to Justice.
Presidents Clinton and Lincoln similarly appointed what Doris Kearns Goodwin has famously called a “team of rivals” to staff their cabinets and Administrations. Lincoln named all of his opponents for the Republican presidential nomination to senior posts in his cabinet and Clinton staffed his White House and much of his cabinet with ambassadors to other wings of the Democratic Party. George Stephanopoulos was his ambassador to House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, Harold Ickes his emissary to organized labor, Al Gore his delegate to the environmentalists, Leon Panetta his liaison with Congressional committee chairmen, Ron Brown his man in the black community, and Henry Cisneros as his go-between with the Hispanics.
In each case, the president acted because to bolster his ties with the factions of his own party because he feared how he would fare with his party in total control of Congress. Neither the Republicans of 1861 nor the Democrats of 1992 saw the president from their own party as their natural leaders. Lincoln’s colleagues had chosen him only after a deadlock between the two front runners had paralyzed the convention. Clinton got the nomination only after Governor Mario Cuomo of New York, the party’s favorite, had pulled out. Each man was elected with barely 40% of the vote. So each felt constrained to share power with their rivals.
While Obama was not the early favorite of his party, he does not need to defer so ostentatiously to those who fought him for the nomination. His general election mandate clearly entitled him to name who he pleased. But he has chosen to nominate men and women with no loyalty to him and no real stake in his future.
And, standing above all his appointees, like a president-in-exile, is Hillary Rodham Clinton.
If Obama needed any warning about how Hillary will play the game, he need only look at how she handled her appointment. She forced Obama to see her by publicly complaining that she had not heard from him. When he raised the possibility of her appointment to State, she then leaked word that it was in the works. Even the announcement of her appointment was not made by Obama but leaked by Hillary’s “confidantes.”
Hillary will be a loose cannon as Secretary of State, vindicating her own agenda rather than that of the president and burnishing her own image at every turn. Not since Cordell Hull in the 30s have we had a Secretary so interested in running for president. Not since William Jennings Bryan in the 1910s have we had a defeated nominee named as Secretary. Obama will not be able to control Hillary nor will he be able to control his own administration with Emanuel as Chief of Staff. He will find that his appointees will march to the beat of their own drummer – if he is lucky – and Hillary’s if he is not.
Either Obama has chosen to put himself in this untenable situation because he is not wise in the ways of Washington or because he plans to be little more than a figurehead. Given his campaign, neither seems likely. But his promise of change has proven so bankrupt that maybe the rest of his candidacy is too.