Some are dismayed by the long time it is taking for the SOS decision process to come to a conclusion. I'm actually pleased to see what looks like some serious thinking going on about what role the Secretary of State is going to play in the next administration. Alegre has a great post, Open Thread: More SoS Chatter, talking about some new developments in the Senate including the promise of a subcommittee chair on health insurance.
My own opinion about the choice before Hillary is simply that she has no wrong decision in front of her. Both paths before her, Senate or State Department, have great rewards and great disappointments in store. They are different ways for her to do what she has always done, which is serve the public interest to the greatest extent of her talents and stamina. We as a country will benefit from her dedication, though the people of New York would clearly lose an effective and indefatigable congress critter should she chose the State Department.
I hope a little more that she will go with the SOS position mostly because we know what she'll do in the other role and because we have not had such a presence in that office for so long.
The yowling from The Village that She will just set up a parallel power center if not an actual shadow government is not entirely wrong, though not for the reasons they propose. They are the ones who have forgotten that "L'État, c'est moi," is not the law of the land, and that people who identify themselves as the emobodiment of the state rather than as the prime servant thereof are the ones at odds with the nation. To do so is to reduce the nation to an extension of a particular will, something that has no right and, indeed, no desire to resist the impulses of the prince. It is the politics of a social clique, not of states.
This is my point of push-back on both the professional Hillary haters and (more gently and with a lot more sympathy) on the Hillary supporters who are suspicious of Obama's intentions. We need to think about this appointment (whether or not Hillary decides to fill it) in terms of serious politics and effective promotion of US interests in the world. We need to consider the representation of the state to other states.
The office could be filled as it has been since at least Eisenhower as a high technocratic position, a place for someone who has not been in electoral politics, is often from a think-tank or academia, or else comes out of a civil service background. You have to go back to George Marshall to find someone who coming into office is a political figure in their own right. Dulles and Kissenger became such figures as a result of being SOS. Even Marshall is not really a good comparison as his political claim was his prominent military role under FDR, where he basically ran WWII. But he accepted the SOS post from Truman while better known and better liked than his boss. He took it up as an opportunity to do world-historic things. You know, the Marshall Plan, that little thing? Since then, all others have come from less illustrious backgrounds. In the case of Colin Powell, the office diminished him. Putting a technocrat into the post would be the safest political bet for the Obama administration and would reinforce the tendency towards an imperial Presidency. The Very Serious People would approve.
So what can it mean that the most prominent, attention getting politician in the country might accept the SOS role? It would be a political bargain and risk. It would mean betting that someone as capable and with the immense national and international authority Hillary commands is a net gain for your administration. To use someone of that stature, as Truman did Marshall, is to go all in on the policy side, because the selection of that individual becomes the touchstone for your policy. The expectation in return is that her prominence and ability will be an asset, more to your advantage than any real or imagined loss of power.
When the talking heads start foaming at the mouth about Hillary forming a parallel sytem, they recognize that power is something that is created, not granted, and that it will accrue to those who know how to use the tools at hand. The state department and foreign service is the most self-concious political class in DC, with the possible exception of the Pentagon. It is the part of our government that is most like the civil service found in other states. It is a veritable mandarinate. Under Powell and Rice, this group has been mocked and sidelined by Cheney and his dirty tricks crew. What could this department do if given a leader who will expect their best across a wide range of issues and events instead of subordinating them to a single-minded pursuit of coersive power? How will other governments respond to Hillary as SOS, particularly given her investment in human rights?
Thus, my curiosity and excitement over the possibilities.