Commentary Magazine


What Hillary Brings

One commentator offers this:

Asking Hillary to head the State Department might create some headaches for Obama, but could help him in at least one extremely important way: by giving him cover to appoint Larry Summers as Treasury Secretary.

As Jon Chait notes, some feminists are already pushing back against a Summers appointment–saying impolitic remarks he made while President of Harvard should disqualify him for the job. But if Obama announced Hillary will be Secretary of State and then appointed Summers, it would surely take away some of the sting.

That would allow Obama to head off a resurgence of the identity politics that paralyzed Bill Clinton’s first term, while simultaneously putting the best economic mind available in charge solving our most pressing problem–the economic crisis. As an added bonus, it would keep John Kerry and Bill Richardson from heading up the State Department.

It is a bit odd to suggest that identity politics is solved by, well, by playing identity politics sufficiently well to defang the political correctness crowd. The reality is that the latter is never satisfied by half a loaf. So, if Clinton’s selection is the price for disarming a rival or for blocking less deserving pleaders — fine. But the President-elect should be under no illusion that rationality, horsetrading and good old fashioned politics will appeal to intellectual purists.

The real question still remains: is Clinton the best gal for the job? If the job is some domestic policy strategy (e.g. get her out of the Senate and hush a rival), it is brilliant. If the task is finding someone with proven executive skills to manage a large, unwieldy bureaucracy, there might be better choices. (Recall that her campaign set a new low in dysfunction and disorder — until the McCain team came along.) And what of the knowledge and, yes, “temperament” needed for a the country’s chief diplomat? That’s another open question.

But her selection would offer one clear advantage: she would be a clear signal that all that happy talk about wooing the world through personal charm and empathy for the world’s bad actors was just fodder for the campaign. Picking her would be a vote in favor of hard-headed realism. Clinton didn’t buy for a moment that tea with Raul Castro was a peachy idea, and she wasn’t about to lose sleep if the U.N. didn’t look favorably upon the Kyl-Lieberman Amendment. And that’s why many conservatives are hoping that she’s the pick. Frankly, all the other likely picks are infinitely worse.

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