THE SPINE NOVEMBER 21, 2008
I deeply approve of Barack Obama's appointments thus far. You already know what I think of Rahm Emanuel. I couldn't be higher on Tom Daschle being given the health portfolio which when medical care becomes a truly exercised human right its enemies won't be able to call it socialism because those enemies have already nationalized the banks, that is, as the Marxists used to say, the means of capital and production. Moreover, Eric Holder knows how law and justice enhance society and knows also their limits. (No, I don't approve of his opinion to President Clinton on Marc Rich. But those who believe that sleazy Bill truly needed an opinion from someone else in this case don't grasp how the first family really worked. Maybe the vetters should look into Hillary's role and her friendship with Rich's ex-wife Denise, supporter extraordinaire of Democratic candidates (especially Hillary) and Clinton "charities" generally.) Obama is staffing the immediate circle around him with competent people who are not sycophants. That says a lot.
So why in God's name does he seem to be bent -hell bent- on Hillary Clinton for secretary of state? I've already given my (unsurprising to all who know me) first reaction to the idea of Hillary as chief American diplomat: Hillary as even low-level diplomat is oxymoronic. But since there's Sturm und Drang in any scenario in which the Clintons are involved the president-elect has actually and already forfeited one week of his transition to the ex-first family's psychodrama.
One might think Obama's designation of Hillary (actually, I still can't quite believe it) is an act of bravery on his part. You know, on the by now utterly cliched model of "team of rivals" in the book with that title by Doris Kearns Goodwin. (James Oakes, a distinguished historian of the Lincoln era at CUNY, did a truly incisive examination of this thesis on the op-ed page of Wednesday's Times. Sean Wilentz, a TNR contributing editor and eminent American historian at Princeton, is now finishing an article for us on Lincoln and Obama for the next issue. We'll see what he has to say about this.) Bravery it may well be in Obama's heart. But I rather think it will turn out to be not, I concede, exactly fatal...but--how shall I put this?--very time-absorbing.
And it's not just about Hillary. Is Barack saying to the people who voted against her that she is somehow still owed some higher office? For the intentions of many of the people who voted for him were voting precisely to get the Clintons (Hillary and Bill) out of their faces at last and off the road to the White House. She will be running for president from the moment she hits Foggy Bottom. She is already running for president.
Some people who intrinsically hate her have found some reason for her appointment in the fact that she is a celebrity. I cannot think of a job in which being a celebrity is less fitting. Maybe Chief Justice of the United States. (For which post other folk seem also to think her qualified. But John Roberts is relatively young.) Hillary is a miasmic figure, obscuring who she truly is, in both traditional meanings of the word, causing a fog and releasing a vaporous emanation. Like smoke, very dangerous.
About the Clinton charities and the Clinton Global Initiative: don't you suspect grand and presumptuous titles? I do. What the hell was PUSH or People United For Humanity but Jesse Jackson's front for blackmail and extortion? The Clinton initiative is in truth a shopping mall food cart where people and institutions set up their needs and benefactors sometimes respond to them. But mostly this is an extraneous matching service...with a great big party once a year in some posh New York venue where do-gooders mingle with the swells. I am reasonably sure that almost no fresh charity is created here. In the best sense, then, the Clintons serve as shadchonim, the Yiddish plural for marriage broker. No, it's more modern than that: it's Craig's List.
But then there is Bill himself. Under a Wall Street Journal headline, "Bill Clinton In Talks To Smooth Wife's Path to Cabinet," Monica Langley and John R. Emshwiller narrate how the ex-president has imposed shabby protections for himself in making past information available to the transition team and arrangement for future vettings of his business and charitable ventures. I think that's now termed "disambiguation." From "ambiguous," I presume. Ambiguous indeed.
The Journal's reporters mince no words. "He has also agreed for the first time to disclose many of the previous donors to his effort." Many? Why not all, each and every one of them? Who is setting the conditions here? Obama's folk or Clinton's always slick lawyers?
On Thursday, The New York Times added more information on the drama in a dispatch by Peter Baker and Helene Cooper. No one missed the petulance in Clinton's outburst, "I'll do whatever they want," as if the Obama negotiators were nasty bullies. His negotiators "insisted that they not be identified because they were disclosing confidential negotiations." Do I read that correctly? Oh, well, this is Washington and the agent of change has not yet sworn the oath of office.
Maybe the agreement will not satisfy Obama and his people.
Of course, the major reason why Hillary should not be nominated as secretary of state is that she is simply not very qualified. I happen to share some of her views. But views are not the main criteria for such a post. It is knowledge and deep knowledge, at that. And disposition, which means respect for evidence and fact. This is not a job for a spinner. As Obama knows well, Mrs. Clinton can spin anything...and does. She is also, as absolutely everyone knows, a trimmer.
She is a tough babe. That is true. The president will have to watch his every step lest he cross hers.