Monday, November 24, 2008

Hillary as Secretary of State - the rationale

Any day now, we should hear confirmation that Hillary Clinton has accepted Barack Obama's offer to be his Secretary of State. Unless she decides against it, which is looking pretty doubtful at this point.

This raises the simple question of why would she give up her Senate seat, which she could easily hold on to for another 20 or 30 years, for a position which she will probably give up in 4 years, if not sooner? If she's still interested in running for president in eight years, she would go from having merely a very good resume to having an incredible one, even better than George H. W. Bush's.

But I don't think she's going to be running for President in 2016. She would be 69, and it would be her 4th presidential campaign. I also think she'll have plenty of competition from younger candidates by that time. She can retire, spend time with Chelsea and Bill, sit on panels, give speeches, and change the world at a leisurely (and lucrative) pace. Hillary does not need to be in the Senate to change the world.

I think Hillary will accept Obama's offer because she can have a profound impact on the world in a relatively short period of time. There are 100 Senators, but there is only one Secretary of State. This is a dangerous time on the world stage, but it is also a time of incredible opportunity. The challenges are many, not least of which is rebuilding America's relationship with the rest of the world. In the Senate, she represents the people of New York in an American legislative body; the scope of her purview is between Buffalo and Montauk. As Secretary of State, she represents the United States of America to the entire world; her purview is between the North and South Poles.

That's why I think Hillary will accept: repairing America's relationship with the rest of the world is a massive challenge. And Hillary, just like Bill, loves a challenge.

Update: It occurs to me that an additional rationale for Hillary to take this job is that she performs a weird sort of political alchemy when she does so. For just about anyone else, becoming Secretary of State would be a promotion; it certainly was for the current occupant. For Hillary, it's almost a lateral move. She enhances the prestige of the position just by the fact of her taking it, if that's possible for a job first held by Thomas Jefferson.

For Obama, appointing Hillary does a couple of things. First, he gets a potentially great Secretary of State. Second, he takes advantage of Bill Clinton's expertise and contacts, but he does so in a way that is not directly tied into domestic politics. Obama gets "two for one," and the Clintons used to describe themselves. Second, he demonstrates that he has the strength to trust people he has not only had disagreements with, but has strenuously competed with. He has demonstrated that he is willing to be challenged by people in his cabinet, which is, of course, a powerful contrast to the last eight years.

No comments: