Monday, November 17, 2008

Sounding Serious - Updated

Update - And the Guardian says its a done deal. I'm not certain this is so as in the body of the article they don't present anyone on record definitively saying yes, the deal is signed. It reports little more than the NYT article does, but with less asshattery. The reason I'd be inclined to believe this report despite the lack of sources is the Sidney Blumenthal connection.

This NYT article says to me the consideration of Hillary for Secretary of State is serious.

The "worry" about Bill Clinton is such bullshit, of course. It is no more than fear of the Unity Democrats that they will be over shadowed by this person they irrationally hate. The media is only too happy to drool over the maybes and perhaps and some people say and what don't we know, what isn't he telling us rumor mongering. It is no less than the manufacture of scandal. Calling Bob Somerby...

However, I have to admit I'm not sure I'd be happy to have Henry Kissinger praising my abilities.

Ignoring the specious scandal-mongering of the last part of the article, what the report says is that the decision of acceptance is based on conditions being met. That's serious and negotiations can fall apart for politically legitimate reasons. HRC will request a significant degree of power and autonomy to accept the obligations and burdens of the office because that is how she does things. You can approve of this or not, but that is part of her character. Is what she requests reasonable? Whether reasonable or not, will it be acceptable? There are balance of power issues that are not just personality conflicts (the tedious crap The Village and Blogger Boyz roll in like dogs with a rotting carcass) but involve questions of authority and state interests that matter when dealing with other sovereign states.

Pulling on the poli sci cap, this is a fascinating and significant development for the incoming administration. It is a real test of leadership and how the executive branch will be run. Can this administration put the interests of the country first? We have had 8 years of one that would not. And before the Obamacan zombies start screaming how I am not giving The Precious a chance, this is a challenge that any incoming non-incumbent president must face. Traditionally, a new president focuses on domestic issues in a first term because those are the issues you campaign on and that is what matters most to the electorate. Screw it up and you lose power. Really screw it up and you lose office. See Carter, Jimmy and Bush, George H.W. In both of these cases, they had domestic and foreign policy challenges. One had a failed foreign policy while the other had a successful one. They both got chucked out of office (Carter more decisively than Bush) because of the crappy domestic conditions. Two-term presidents tend to focus on foreign affairs in the second term because the domestic policy battle lines are settled. It gives them some stature and gets them out of the daily mud-slinging.

Obama has been signaling that he really didn't care too much about domestic affairs, offering lack-luster domestic policy positions (except for environmental stuff - whomever is writing those papers is the sharpest person he has in the policy shop) and indicating that he wants to be leader of the free world. The collapse of the economy has brought those intentions to a screaming halt. This presidency cannot be conducted through symbol, gesture and a desire to be the good guy who frees the world of the Bush Doctrine. Domestic affairs will dominate, but foreign affairs are as pressing as ever.

Regardless of who ends up in the SOS seat, the administration is going to have to make some hard decisions about the autonomy of that office. Where is policy actually developed? Who are those actors? Will you have integration or oppositional relations by design (which is different than whether individuals like each other)? I agree with the article that the two most significant cabinet choices are SOS and Sec. Treas. How much will these two coordinate and communicate? To what degree will domestic policy and foreign policy need to work in tandem due to the global nature of the financial crisis? Also, what about the VP? We have been seeing a more activist role for this office since Carter. Where will Biden fit in the overall picture?

Putting the conduct of foreign policy into Hillary's hands could be an extremely bold choice that is in the best interests of the country, even if not in the short-term electoral interests of the individuals involved. With reference to a comment in my earlier post asking about Samantha Powers, the answer is simple - if HRC is the SOS, Powers will get on board and do her job to the best of her considerable abilities or she will leave. That says nothing about Powers individually. It's just how the system works. But that points towards the as-yet-unanswered question of where and how power will be balanced in the administration. A confident executive gets the best, puts them in place, defines the ground rules, and tells people to be smarter and better than the boss in their area of expertise. Do not underestimate the dangers of this power model. The wrong mix of "the best", poor ground rules, bad rule following, titanic ego battles, and people with a great deal of autonomy being flat-out wrong in their judgment will wreck it, just to name a few common problems. Actions to limit risks introduce their own risks of missed opportunities, insecurity about and second-guessing of area leaders, negotiation partners not trusting the authority of who they are dealing with (Can you really promise me X?), and a failure to succeed because of risk avoidance, etc. These are not qualities specific to the SOS appointment, but will accompany any of the cabinet positions and major advisory posts.

Oddly enough, this story has little to do with Hillary and everything to do with Obama.

It is time to commit to a course of action.



Elise said...

If I were HRC I would have two worries about taking the SecState position regardless of what Obama promised. First, if the opinions HRC expressed about Obama's foreign policy expertise in the primaries is truly what she believes she must realize there is a good chance Obama's foreign policy endeavors will be disastrous. No matter how much power and autonomy HRC is told she would have Obama will presumably be setting the parameters of that policy.

Second, I'd worry that Obama would fire HRC immediately after the 2010 elections. If the Obama Presidency is going well, he would figure he could afford to. If the Obama Presidency is going poorly, he'd want to leave HRC without an official podium in the run-up to his 2012 re-election bid.

Yes, I know it would be tricky for HRC to challenge Obama for the nomination if she was still his SecState as 2012 approaches but it wouldn't be impossible - especially if Obama is doing really badly and HRC is put forward by Democrats desperate to convince Obama not to seek re-election in order to avoid a bloodbath at the voting booths.

A little night musing said...

Just curious, what do you see HRC doing afterwards if she accepts the SoS nomination (assuming it's offered)?

We were discussing this at work today. One of us had heard a rumor that she wants out of the Senate because she can't get anything done due to her low seniority, can't get the committee assignments and/or chairs she would need, etc.

But how long would she be SoS? And then what? If she went back into the Senate, she'd still lack seniority. At least if she stayed in the Senate she would be acquiring seniority along the way. Would she then run for President again? She has indicated she does not want that.

[I also see her as better on domestic issues, and want her working on Health Care, long shot that it now seems. And I don't know who would take over her seat. So I'm kind of worried over this one.]

Shainzona said...

What constitutes senior senator status? HRC has been elected twice - and yes, I know some of these toads have been in place for 30+ years. But what does it take for HRC to get that status? If she's elected 3 times? 4 times?

Maybe one of the things we should be working on is getting rid of some of the old dead wood. Does she have to stick it out as long as these old guys (I was going to say "farts", but decided to be polite...whoops!) have been there to have any stature/committee assignments?

Anonymous said...

Here's a good Wikipedia article that discusses Senate seniority and lists the current ranking. HRC is ranked 68th. With a few names leaving the list, she would move up a few notches, but not much.

I'm not too sure about the Guardian article. When I read this, it sounds like it is still just a bunch of speculation:

Clinton, who still harbours hopes of a future presidential run, had to weigh up whether she would be better placed by staying in the Senate, which offers a platform for life, or making the more uncertain career move to the secretary of state job.

I worry that they will use Bill's absolutely stellar foundation work as a reason not to offer it to her. Chickens. Eggs. All that.

We shall see.

Anglachel said...


I am sure the Clinton haters have decided that they can make Bill's foundation into the issue that will derail this nomination, but they are wrong.

The fact is that the SOS post has to do with Obama's relationship to the rest of the world, and dicking around with this appointment will damage his prestige and position with them.

Also, I don't trsut what any new outlet says about HRC's intentions or objectives. They have always been wrong.

I myself am enjoying the sound of heads exploding in infantile rage.


zuzu said...

I don't get all the concern over Bill's business interests.

After all, look at the Bush family ties to the Saudis (or to the Nazis for that matter) and Cheney's continuing to profit from Halliburton.

I realize that a lot of the people who are hyperventilating about Bill have criticized Bush and Cheney for these ties in the past, but the hyperventilating was absent, and more importantly, these ties have not been mentioned once lately.

As for the Senate, there are a lot of windbags ahead of her for seniority, and she's not gotten the committee assignments she wanted (as opposed to Obama, who got a plum subcommittee that could have given him fantastic foreign-policy experience, and then just did nothing with it).

As for who replaces her, I don't worry about that. New York's got a lot of great Congresswomen who'd be terrific in the Senate, and Gov. Paterson is a progressive whose judgment on these matters is sound.

Bookhorde said...

I think if HRC wants the SoS job it means she has a lot of plans she wants to put into effect for it.
I worry about the reports that she is "conflicted" about accepting -- my guess is that her conflict would be from a (well-founded) lack of trust in BO.

Koshem Bos said...

To quote Samuel Goldwyn: "an oral contract isn't worth the paper on which it's written." I don't believe in any promise Obama gives. An average guy on world class ego trip is not a person you want to have an agreement with.

Furthermore, the post alludes to it, the dynamics of an administration will have a lot to do with the independence of the SOS. You have the VP, the NSA, CIA, etc. It's a jungle of animals the are ready to devour each other.

Please, don't take the job; they will continue to bad mouth Bill and her; they will continue to tell everyone ready to listen that Clinton presidency was a colossal failure to lower the expectations of the Obama one.

Palomino said...

Yes, I know it would be tricky for HRC to challenge Obama for the nomination if she was still his SecState as 2012 approaches but it wouldn't be impossible - especially if Obama is doing really badly and HRC is put forward by Democrats desperate to convince Obama not to seek re-election in order to avoid a bloodbath at the voting booths.

Under no circumstances--none--will Hillary Clingon challenge President Obama for the Democratic nomination in 2012. That's the major reason why she is likely never to be president, and a major reason why she should accept the SoS job rather than spend years to come as an iconic but relatively powerless junior senator.

What constitutes senior senator status?

A senator is a junior senator as long as the other senator from his or her state has been in office longer. If Senator Chuck Schumer were to leave the Senate, whoever took his place would become New York's junior senator.