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Posted by on Mar 19, 2010 in International, Media, Politics | 2 comments

Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama: 21st Century Team of Rivals Effectively at Work


The New York Times provides a fascinating update on the relationship between those onetime bitter foes for the 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination (now President) Barack Obama and (now Secretary of State) Hillary Clinton — a fascinating portrait of a 21st century “team of rivals” at work. Key passages:

Sixteen months after Mr. Obama surprised nearly everyone by picking her as secretary of state, the two have again surprised nearly everyone by forging a credible partnership. Mrs. Clinton has proved to be an eager team player, a tireless defender of the administration, ever deferential to Mr. Obama and careful to ensure that her husband, the former president, does not upstage her boss.

Mr. Obama has been solicitous of Mrs. Clinton, yielding to her at times in internal debates, even showing signs of adopting some of her more hawkish world views.

They now joke about their “frenemies” status and have made gestures toward each other’s families. When Mr. Obama learned that Chelsea Clinton had become engaged, he turned to Mrs. Clinton and asked, “Does she want a White House wedding?” a senior official recalled. (Mrs. Clinton declined, saying the offer was “sweet” but would be “inappropriate.”) And when Mrs. Clinton traveled to Honolulu in January, she paid tribute to Mr. Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, in a speech she gave while looking over a garden dedicated to Ms. Dunham.

Still, there is none of the deep familiarity or the tight bonds — the round-the-clock, back-channel access — of their predecessors, Condoleezza Rice and George W. Bush, or going further back, James A. Baker and the first President Bush or Henry A. Kissinger and Richard M. Nixon.

Right now, according to the Times report, it’s a good, solid working relationship:

“Hillary Clinton is the secretary of state,” said David Rothkopf, a former Clinton administration official who has written about the shaping of foreign policy. “The question now is whether she becomes a real adviser, and whether he trusts her.”

Mr. Obama has jealously guarded his prerogatives as the architect of American foreign policy, concentrating decision-making on crucial issues like Iran, Iraq and the Middle East in the White House. And Mrs. Clinton has yet to stake a claim to a core foreign-policy issue, the kind of signature role that would allow her nascent partnership with Mr. Obama to become a truly historic alliance.

…Interviews with more than a dozen senior White House and State Department officials, and friends of Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton, suggest that the president and his top diplomat are still easing into their alliance. Most of those interviewed spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, but their accounts have been matched against those of other participants whenever possible. The officials and associates tell a story of painstaking cultivation and sublimated ambition, seat-of-the-pants diplomacy and ritualized White House meetings (she sips water; he munches an apple).

While their underlings at times grouse about one another — some Clinton supporters call White House officials “The Cardinals” (to suggest that they are too controlling), and some Obama staff members refer to the State Department as “Hillaryland” (the campaign’s leftover name for the enemy camp) — Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton both have compelling reasons to make their relationship work.

There’s a lot more so read it in full.

This kind of report again points out the flaws of conventional wisdom and a chunk of the speculative analysis that occupies a large space in new and old media commentary. Since the Obama administration began there have been predictions by some that the Obama-Clinton relationship would never work, that Hillary Clinton was being pushed to the side and marginalized in her job, that she was miserable in it, and/or that she would either quit with a flourish and set herself up to run for the 2012 Presidential election or just quit because she could never work with Obama, who was painted as arrogant and having only invited her into the cabinet to keep her at arms length.

So far these theories have proven to be as accurate as some of the inside reporting scoops that over the years were touted by SCREAMING HEADLINES on the Drudge Report. And like some of those inside scoops, they quietly expired, not acknowledged to have turned out to have been in the end as full of the hot air and/or politically-anchored wishful thinking for which journalists and bloggers soundly criticize politicians of both parties.

The words “NEVER MIND” a la Gilda Radner were never uttered – but they are implicit.