The Other Hillary Story

Historians are glowing over the reports that the president-elect is considering the appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. By reaching out to his toughest adversary for the Democratic nomination at the same time he says he is reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s excellent Team of Rivals, the history profession has received a real boost.
Doris Kearns Goodwin, smiling over more sales?
I’m delighted that Mr. Obama is reading Team of Rivals, and that he evidently is searching Lincoln’s history for insights into how to be president. That is a thoughtful, analytical approach to being president that we have not seen for at least eight years.
But I find two other things to like about his consideration of Sen. Clinton for the State Department, along with his apparent inclination to appoint former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services. First, it reflects a self-confident man who is reaching out to experienced people who have their own political bases. They are not “yes-people.” Second, it shows a great appreciation for the wisdom learned from the grinding, and too-often derided, experience of being an elected politician.
Clinton at State?
Tom Daschle at HHS?
Like most bosses, the “people” really sort of suck. They change their minds all the time. They don’t notice the good work you do day in and day out, then get bent out of shape about something not very important. The experience of having to answer to voters is a valuable one. Cabinet members need to know how to talk to constituencies, how to manage a message and stay on it, and what NOT to say. They need to know how to talk to Congress and make legislative deals. And the president needs good advice on all those issues.
Permanent bureaucrats like Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice and Michael Chertoff, or private-sector refugees like Henry Paulson and John Snow, are less likely to bring those talents into the mix. Former elected officials like Clinton and Daschle are more likely to do so.
Generalizations are always dangerous. Some former elected officials are unsuccessful in Cabinet positions. Bill Clinton’s initial Cabinet included two congressmen — Les Aspin, Jr. at Defense, and Mike Espy at Agriculture — who made quick and unlamented exits.
But people like Clinton and Daschle and Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Obama’s new chief of staff) have real experience with the opportunities and danger zones in Washington. And they know when Obama is president, he will have a boss: the voters. I like that.
Now, to get way ahead of myself, this all makes me wonder about potential Obama appointees to the Supreme Court. Might the president-elect have the courage to name candidates with experience in the political rough-and-tumble? None of the current Justices has ever faced the voters in an election. I like law professors, prosecutors, and private lawyers as much as the next person. Probably more. But former elected officials like Sandra Day O’Connor, Earl Warren, and Hugo Black have made great justices. They brought to the Court an understanding of politics, and the consequences of their decisions, that is tremendously important.
Something to hope for.


  1. klkatz on November 20, 2008 at 9:49 pm

    perhaps he should read about Washington’s cabinet as well.
    It’s amazing how much he’s credited with, yet so little concern for him at times.

  2. carol hartford on November 30, 2008 at 2:08 am

    I am waiting to see how much or how little Obama will do about restoring the Constitution. He has said very little about this.
    He has hinted that he will wait to see how many laws may have been broken. But without investigation first he cannot come to a decision. He has made it seem as if the case must be readily and easily recognized as a crime first. It sounds as if the only way he will pursue an accounting is with a signed confession by the President with a dozen witnessess.
    Just how convenient and how egregious must the violation be before anything is done? Just who is going to be held accountable and when? How important is it that we clean our own house? And for the sake of future President’s behavior should we take this investigation seriously?
    Either the Constitution is worth protecting, or it is not. We should make up our minds once and for all. Do we punish anyone in the Whitehouse for shredding this Constitution? I could have sworn those in power took an oath. I must have slept through the part that said maybe they would.
    And to think one of the writers of the torture memos is now teaching law at that bastion of liberal conscience. UC Berkeley in California. John Yoo. Can you say hypocrisy?
    Since Obama already threw the Constitution under the bus last July when he voted to further ammend the FISA bill, I am curious to see how far he will extend the umbrella of the Constitution to cover his fellow citizens.
    The Constitution. Now you see it, now you don’t. It may as well be written in invisible ink.

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