Allies and Rivals: Will Hillary Be Secretary of State?
There has been much speculation — it has been reported, through anonymous sources, that Obama discussed the job with Hillary at their meeting in Chicago last week, and Bill is apparently being vetted with respect to his many international dealings and connections — and now one newspaper (and one newspaper alone), Britain’s Guardian, is reporting that Hillary will accept Obama’s offer.
Or will she? The Guardian does not identify any sources. It has simply “learned” that Hillary “plans to accept the job.” Which may or may not be true — but how does it know this and how is it the only media outlet with what is undeniably major news?
I actually do think the job is hers if she wants it. Whether or not a formal offer has been made, it would be rather difficult for Obama to defend giving the job to anyone else at this point, even a reputable choice like Kerry. I will have more to say if and when we know more.
For now, though, let me just repeat what I’ve said already, which is this: I am intrigued by the prospect of Obama and Hillary working together to chart a new course in U.S. foreign policy. And I do not buy into the whole “Team of Rivals” view that has rapidly made its way around the punditocracy and into the CW. Obama and Hillary were engaged in a long and sometimes bitter primary campaign, and they have certainly been rivals within the party, but they are not enemies of the sort they are often made out to be. Indeed, Obama picking Hillary would be a lot like Reagan picking Bush for VP in 1980, two leading figures from the same party coming together to form an alliance to strengthen the party/government. (Although, even then, Reagan and Bush came from different ideological wings of the Republican Party and disagreed fundamentally on certain core issues, much more than Obama and Hillary do.)
And, to be sure, there is always rivalry to some degree among the leadership contenders in any party. How could there not be? Hillary wanted to be the Democratic nominee, as did Obama, and the two were required to engage in a long campaign against each other. Does that make them enemies? Hardly. Does it make them rivals? Sort of. They were rivals during the primary campaign, and that campaign emphasized the differences between them, and no doubt left some hard feelings between them, but, with that campaign long over, they are no longer rivals in any formal way. And yet the media continue to insist that the divide remains, because, of course, what the media want is drama: the “Team of Rivals” story plays better than, say, my “Team of Allies” alternative.
And yet I stick to that alternative. The fact is, both Obama and Hillary are loyal Democrats. It may not be easy to get over losing, but Hillary isn’t a petulant child. She is no doubt thinking about her future, but can she not also be thinking about what’s best for her party, for her president-elect, and for her country? And it may be, in this case, that what is best for her future is also what is best for the country, namely, being secretary of state. Furthermore, on the issues, Obama and Hillary are in agreement far more than in disagreement. It’s not like Obama has asked, say, Giuliani to be attorney general, Romney to be treasury secretary, or Palin to be energy secretary. What he is doing, if we are to believe the reports, is to unite his party and strengthen his administration by reaching out to one of its leading figures, his former rival for the nomination.
This happens all the time in parliamentary systems, where the leader of the party — say, the prime minister — must form a government from other sitting members of his or her party, with top Cabinet spots often going to his or her former leadership rivals. In the U.K., for example, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown apparently made a secret deal before they took office, while they were still in opposition, with Blair assuming the leadership of the Labour Party, and then, once elected, Blair going to No. 10 and Brown taking the chancellorship (finance minister). Over time, though, there is no doubt that they became heated “rivals,” each with his own support in the party. And yet, they continued to govern together as “allies.” Here in Canada, Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Finance Minister Paul Martin, the two leading figures in the Liberal Party from 1990 until Chretien stepped down in 2003, were, within the context of the party, bitter “rivals” with significant ideological and policy differences who nonetheless governed Canada together for over a decade.
In other words, the Obama vs. Hillary meme has largely been manufactured. In any parliamentary system, there is little doubt that they would both be top members of the government. Sure, they may not be close personally, and there may be a few crucial differences between them on policy, but Obama is forming a government, not building a circle of friends, and his Cabinet certainly does not need to be ideologically rigid. If he thinks that Hillary would be a positive addition to his administration, that they could work well together, and that she would be an excellent secretary of state at this extremely challenging time, then why not?
They are allies, after all, far more than they are rivals.
(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)