THE PLANK NOVEMBER 21, 2008
Let’s assume that it’s true: Hillary Clinton at State, Timothy Geithner at Treasury and Bill Richardson at Commerce. There are reasons to quarrel with all these picks--and certainly we’ve heard lots of reasons to worry about Hillary Clinton at State--but all in all, they are good choices. Like Obama’s choice of Joe Biden as Vice President, they show that he respects the value of experience and is not afraid to surround himself with major leaguers rather than yes-men (or women) and flunkies.
I know that some people worry that the Obama administration looks too much like the Clinton administration. I have always had the opposite concern: that the eight prior years of Democratic governance--which, after all, was certainly not a failure like the eight years of George W. Bush--would be sacrificed at the altar of Americans’ obsession with newness. What’s needed now, above all, is continuity, experience, and lessons learned from the past. And Obama’s choices to date--in both the White House (beginning with Rahm Emmanuel) and ending with Clinton and Geithner--are a reaffirmation, rather than a repudiation of continuity and of the importance of experience. You want to see how “new” works in Washington: look at eight years of the Treasury Department under George W. Bush.
I think many of the doubts raised about Hillary Clinton’s appointment made sense: particularly, her problems as manager and administrator and the complications raised by Bill’s presence. But I don’t buy the argument that she would use her position to undermine Obama or even to establish an independent power-base. Hillary Clinton has never displayed the kind of maverick independence of a Tom Coburn or Bob Kerrey or even a John McCain. I believe she will do what Obama wants. So it really is a question of compared to whom--and given the choices Obama was ready to make, she was the best one. And her appointment sends a message of political unity to the country and of seriousness about foreign policy to the world.
Like my TNR colleagues, I would have liked to see Larry Summers at Treasury. But Geithner is no lightweight, as Noam Scheiber has written. He is a veteran of the Rubin-Summers Treasury Department and is the head of the New York Fed, which is the second most important position in American banking. And Obama aides have suggested that Obama will employ Summers in some White House capacity, where, it is hoped, his understanding of the international economy can be brought to bear.
I was never crazy about Richardson as Secretary of State for reasons I no longer need to enumerate, but I think he’s a perfect choice for Secretary of Commerce. He is an experienced governor; he has run a cabinet department; and he is, above all, an effective pol in a job that is highly political. The Secretary of Commerce is as close as you get to what the Postmaster General used to be. I know one shouldn’t say this aloud, but he is the cabinet officer in the best position to reward supporters and significant constituencies with money and contracts. And he represents a very important Democratic constituency.
So all in all a good day for Obama, the Democratic party, the country and maybe even the world.
--John B. Judis