President-elect Obama is considering appointing Sen. Hillary Clinton to be his
Secretary of State.
Henry Kissinger, who was Richard Nixon's Secretary of State, thinks this would be a
"I believe it would be an outstanding appointment," Mr. Kissinger said when asked
about the rumor at the World Economic Forum in India over the weekend. "If it is
true, it shows a number of things, including great courage on the part of the
"To appoint a very strong personality into a prominent cabinet
position requires a great deal of courage." (Henry should know.)
Marty Peretz, editor in chief of the influential liberal magazine The New Republic,
thinks it would be a bad idea:
"Hillary is not a person of principle. She is a person of shifting position. The
best you can say of her, then, is that she is flexible, endlessly flexible." Mr.
The ideological flexibility Mr. Peretz deplores is really an asset, argued New York
Times columnist Gail Collins.
"I know, my little Obama hyper-partisans," she wrote Saturday. "You spent a year of
your lives trying to keep Hillary out of the White House because she voted to let
the Bush administration invade Iraq. And now, your man is talking about letting her
be the point person on foreign policy. What happened to transformative change?
"We've been all through this before. Candidates who promise to bring everyone
together are talking about meeting in the middle. The only people who think Barack
Obama is a radical are you and Joe the Plumber," she wrote.
Perhaps because I share Joe the Plumber's concerns about the president-elect, Ms.
Collins' reasoning appeals to me. Since Mr. Obama is most unlikely to pick the
candidate I prefer -- former UN Ambassador John Bolton -- my attitude is, why not
This isn't because I think Sen. Clinton would perform particularly well as Secretary
of State. I don't. But Sen. Clinton and her qualifications cannot be judged in
isolation. They have to be judged in comparison with those of the likely
alternatives. Besides hers, the names most frequently bruited about have been Sen.
John Kerry (D-Mass), and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson.
One of the criticisms Mr. Peretz makes of her -- "She is not a committed leftist at
all" -- is one of the reasons why I prefer Hillary to these two. Hillary Clinton
will say anything, promise anything, do anything to get what she wants, but she is,
as Mr. Peretz notes, "a committed situationalist." She is more likely than an
ideologue to let reality intrude in her decisionmaking. And she is smart enough to
recognize reality when it sticks its ugly snout under the tent. Sen. Kerry, I fear,
really believes the left-wing drivel he spouts.
Ms. Collins, who also tends to believe that left wing drivel, sees another problem:
"Although Kerry has many excellent qualities and his children appear to be very fond
of him, if there is a contest for Senator You Would Least Want to Have a Cup of
Coffee With, he would be a good bet for top 10," Ms. Collins wrote. "Politicians
often brag that they never forget a name, but Kerry is one of those guys who can't
even remember a face."
Bill Richardson has as a fine a resume as one could ask for in a candidate for
Secretary of State: a long time member of Congress who served as UN Ambassador and
Energy Secretary before being elected governor.
But, as Joe Biden painfully reminds us, it is, alas, possible to hold a lot of
important jobs in politics without performing any of them well, and Gov. Richardson
has a tendency to say nutty things. Mr. Peretz described him as "very much a
light-weight," a description I am inclined to agree with. Whatever criticisms one
might make of Hillary Clinton, a light-weight she isn't.
It could be politically useful for Mr. Obama, a gesture of party unity, to pick Sen.
Clinton. He may in the end decide she brings too much baggage (Hil comes with
Bill). But the mere fact he's considering her shows Sen. Obama has learned from the
flap over his failure to vet Sen. Clinton to be his running mate.