Saturday, November 22, 2008

Well, She Is Prettier Than Seward

A number of news outlets are reporting that Hillary Clinton will be Barack Obama's Secretary of State, though the official announcement apparently won't come until after Thanksgiving.

This is a difficult question. As Josh Marshall over TPM has pointed out, Clinton's a good Senator. She does good work in that body. Her voice would be of great use on issues like health care reform, issues on which she couldn't really weigh in if she was Secretary of State. There's no guarantee that her appointed replacement from New York would be anything but a non-entity.

A lot of the chattering has centered on a possible personality conflict between Obama and Clinton, or issues surrounding Bill's charitable foundation or any of a dozen other problems originating in the bruising primary fight between these two. I won't pretend those concerns are completely baseless, but I can't picture Clinton turning the State Department into a partisan camp or using the position to fight an insurgency against Obama. It's popular to caricature Clinton as some kind of devil beast out of Greek mythology, and too many Democrats joined the conservative fringe in that pastime during the primary. But this is human being, not the Whore of Babylon. And this is a serious woman who's going to have a serious job. If I expect her to use that position to undermine the President of the United States then I have to think that she is a truly awful human being with no regard for the well-being of her country. And I refuse to believe that.

No, my biggest concern is that I don't know whether she'll be very good at the job. That's not a question of talent or intelligence or toughness. She has all three of those in spades, and I guarantee you that in the back of his mind, Obama's thinking, "If she treats Putin like she treated me in Pennsylvania, he'll beg me to put a missile defense shield in Poland."

But there are a lot of smart, talented, tough people who wouldn't do this job very well. The Obama campaign took great pains to point out during the primary that Clinton's supposed foreign policy experience was rather unimpressive, and I don't think they were wrong. It's fair to ask whether she has enough experience with the kind of high stakes, high wire diplomacy the job requires. And if the answer is no, than this isn't the right place for her. Secretary of State is not the kind of job you hand out for political purposes. It's too important to give to anyone but an individual you feel is qualified for it.

Others have pointed out that Clinton's two largest areas of executive experience are the early-90's health care task force and her presidential campaign, both of which spun into the sea like they were off-screen plot twists in a MASH season finale. I won't belabor the point.

On the other hand, she is smart, tough and talented, and I has told people who asked me about my fondness for Obama, after the past eight years, I'm willing to take a leap of faith for talent. I'm not going to castigate Obama for this choice, assuming he makes it. I can see his rationale. But color me wary.

No comments: