Hopefully, it’s just a rumor started by the Clintonistas, but is Barack Obama seriously considering appointing Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State? If he pulls the trigger on that appointment, he will deserve what he gets!
Obama would do well to remember the history of Harry Truman and Jimmy Byrnes in 1944. Byrnes, known as the “assistant president” in FDR’s third term, was widely thought to be Roosevelt’s choice to replace Henry Wallace as his running mate on the 1944 ticket. At the last minute, FDR re-considered and decided Byrnes, a South Carolinian, was too conservative and went with Truman instead. But the Democratic Party establishment clearly was disappointed. While they wanted to get rid of the almost-Communist Wallace, they wanted Byrnes not Truman. (Just like the party establishment really wanted Hillary, not Obama, to be the presidential nominee).
So Truman named Byrnes to be his Secretary of State after he took office on Roosevelt’s death in 1945. Byrnes, who thought he should have been president, proceeded to make his own foreign policy. He flew to a meeting in Europe with the allied foreign ministers and barely kept President Truman posted on the deliberations. He became a loose cannon who thought he was the president. After a year of this nonsense, Truman fired him and brought in George Marshall to take the job.
If Obama nominates Hillary, he will put himself in the same position as Truman was with Byrnes and the results will be just as predictable.
All of this illustrates the fundamental problem Obama faces within his party: He was not their top choice for the job. The Democratic Party’s top brass wanted Hillary, not Obama. When Obama began winning primaries and caucuses, they fell in line and refused to make a super-delegate goal line stand for Clinton, but that does not disguise the fact that most of them backed Clinton from the outset.
Oddly, their lack of loyalty to Obama puts him in much the same position as Bill Clinton was in when he became president in 1993. He was not his party’s first choice either. New York Governor Mario Cuomo could have had the 1992 nomination for the asking, but he opted out. Faced with a choice among Clinton, cancer-stricken Paul Tsongas, and renegade former California Governor Jerry Brown, they opted for Bill. But their hearts stayed with Cuomo.
So when Clinton faced a Democratic Congress on taking office, he could not count on their support. Neither can Obama. So Clinton had to toe the liberal line in order to round up the votes he needed to pass his programs in the Congress that was nominally under his control. So will Obama. Ultimately, Clinton became the hostage of the Democratic majority in Congress and they became his jailer. He was forced so far to the left that he told me, in 1994 (after losing the Congressional elections) “I was so far to the left I didn’t recognize myself.” Neither will Obama.
Those who embrace the comforting fantasy that Obama will govern from the center and leave the left frustrated are in for a shock. We don’t know if Obama wants to move left or center. But that’s not the key question. The issue is not what he will want to do but what Congress will make him do.
The best example of how this will work is the 1994 anti-crime bill that was one of Clinton’s top legislative priorities. He originally saw it as a conservative bill providing for 100,000 extra police (about a 205 expansion of the nation’s constabulary), handgun and assault rifle controls, expansion of state and local prison construction, and a federal death penalty. But the liberals in the House, particularly the Black Caucus, were inflamed at the idea of capital punishment and demanded a stiff price for their support. Why didn’t Clinton just cross the aisle and pass the bill with Republican backing? First, the GOP wanted the gun controls dropped from the bill and second, the Democratic Congressional leadership threatened to make the president an orphan and pull their support if he sought Republican votes. So Clinton was stuck wringing every last vote out of his House majority. The bill became a Christmas tree with every kind of local pork project decorating. Midnight basketball courts, swimming pools, community centers and all manner of garbage was tacked onto the bill to win the votes, member by member, of every House Democrat. As a result, it became a left-leaning bill that Clinton had to accept. (After passage, it became the central force driving a sharp reduction in crime, but that’s another story).
Obama will face just such a situation and will be forced to the left – if he needs any forcing – just as Clinton was. And selecting Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State will just cede more of his authority.