Saturday, November 15, 2008

Hillary as Secretary of State?

I had “retired” this blog back in August when Barack Obama wisely chose Joe Biden for his running mate but now that Hillary Clinton has surfaced as a possible choice for Secretary of State it is worth revisiting the issue of whether Obama should share power with Hillary (and Bill) Clinton.

While choosing Clinton as SOS is different from choosing her to be “Vice-President” (I use quotes because the campaign to force Obama to choose her is a Vice-President was really seeking a co-Presidency), many of the reasons why it would be a bad decision are the same.

First, how is it different? Well, for one, the SOS serves more or less “at the pleasure” of the President, meaning it is easier to get rid of the person serving as Secretary of State and it has been done countless times while there is no record of any Vice-President being cashiered, except during the next election. The last instance of a VP change within the same President’s Administration was 1944, when FDR’s lack of enthusiasm for Vice-President Henry Wallace opened the door for the Democratic convention to choose Harry Truman (arguably Spiro Agnew is a more recent example but he was forced to resign for legal reasons). So, Hillary would be on a shorter lease as SOS.

Second, being SOS would limit Hillary’s ability to co-opt Obama on domestic policy, but this is only somewhat reassuring since too many people minimize the importance of foreign policy, which gets us to some of the problems with Hillary as SOS.

The reasons Hillary is a bad choice are still the same. She and her husband have no record of playing second fiddle to anyone else. If her campaign demonstrated anything else, it was the sense that the Clintons feel entitled to power. Yes, she played the good soldier on the campaign trail in the fall after Obama was nominated, but so has almost every other losing candidate for a Presidential nomination. The tendency of the Clintons to want to set “their own” foreign policy is going to be strong and by choosing Hillary, Barack is going to open himself up to the question of who is running the show. One article in the Politico came close to making it explicit: “Clinton would be most attractive if Obama concludes that he will have to focus his early days in office on the domestic economy, and will have to essentially outsource heavy-duty foreign travel to his secretary of state.” This is a VERY bad impression to leave in public. Foreign policy is really the President’s number one responsibility. Yes, “the economy” is high in the voters’ minds right now and it is always fun and easy to bash the rich and talk about helping the middle class and poor, but truth be told, the President has a limited ability to affect macroeconomic trends and even then, he needs agreement from Congress. His hand is much freer and his direct impact much greater on foreign affairs. The President could order withdrawal from Iraq or bombing of Iran in minutes (Congress would weigh in at some point but he could initiate this on his own). Second, if terrorists were to set off a nuke in an American city, the composition of the economic stimulus package is pretty well moot. This is not to suggest the former is any more likely with Hillary as SOS, but rather, foreign policy is not something to be “outsourced” to Hillary or anyone else.

Certainly many who resisted Hillary as VP, especially given the obnoxious demands of her most bitter supporters, might be open to her as SOS. Since this idea appears to have originated with Obama, obviously his supporters don’t feel he is being pressured. However, the downsides aren’t escaping notice. Hillary’s foreign policy experience is really rather thin as the New York Times notes “Greg Craig, one of Mr. Obama’s top foreign policy aides, detailed in a memorandum in March what the campaign called evidence of Mrs. Clinton’s lack of foreign policy experience. Another Obama adviser, Susan Rice, said in a conference call during that period that the ability to handle a 3 a.m. crisis phone call was not something that could be acquired “merely by being married to a commander in chief.” An article in the Washington Post also pointed out that she and, more importantly, Bill would have to undergo a vetting process. The same article reported that Bill Richardson and John Kerry, whose foreign policy credentials are far more impressive than Hillary’s, are also in the running.

All of this may be nearly a done deal, according to some press reports and certainly the fact this has made it into the news and the Obama people aren't really slapping it down, it doesn’t augur well. All I can say I hope Barack knows what he is getting himself into.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Barack chooses Joe Biden.


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Will Barack surrender to the Clintons and make Hillary co-President?

As VP speculation reaches a fever pitch one dangerous name as resurfaced with a vengeance, none other than that of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Today new pro-Hillary speculation emerged even from unlikely sources. John Nichols was quite critical of Hillary during the primaries but now he suggests she is a strong candidate for Vice-President. In an article yesterday, he said “Obama needs a running-mate with foreign-policy "stature"” and the two he names are Joe Biden and Hillary. Biden is an obvious choice give his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Hillary makes it because her “international credentials are actually a good deal more solid than even her advocates recognize” without mentioning what those supposed credentials are. He suggests it is all timing, an early (pre-convention) pick favors Biden, a later pick (presumably after the convention has started) favors Hillary. Ralph Nader also opined that Obama has to pick Clinton to unify the party.

Of course, people have been aggressively pushing Hillary as VP for months. First there are the disgruntled anti-Obama Clinton supporters have a demand “Pick Hillary or else line” as much in spite as anything else. Also, pro-Clinton hacks masquerading as objective media pundits continue to chant “Hillary for VP.” CNN’s David Gergen and Clinton lawyer Lanny Davis have continued to push the “Obama needs Hillary to win” line. There are huge flaws in this argument. First, the evidence to back up this claim all seems to be rooted in a Fox News poll in July showing Obama-Clinton enjoying a larger lead against a hypothetical McCain-Romney ticket than Obama enjoyed against McCain in a matchup of only Presidential candidates. If there is more recent polling data to support this assertion, they don’t mention it. What recent polling data does show is Obama enjoys a consistent if narrow lead over McCain. As of today, the polling data over at shows Barack over McCain from 1 to 5 points. No current poll shows McCain ahead. If Obama can win on his own, why does he need Hillary? It isn’t just an academic question because picking Hillary would come at a VERY high cost.

Obama has been exceptionally gracious to the Clintons, given the obnoxious behavior of Bill Clinton and Hillary’s supporters. While Hillary has been publicly supportive of Barack, she has done little to restrain her supporters’ overt hostility to him. The Clintons will already have very prominent speaking rolls on two nights of the four-day Democratic convention and Hillary may get a third when the roll call vote is held. What would it say if the Vice-Presidential candidate ends up with more speaking time than the Presidential candidate? By all accounts, Bill Clinton has refused to open the donor list to his Presidential library to Barack’s Vice-Presidential vetting team. To pick Hillary after that would make a mockery of the process. Hillary’s supporters have already said she should have clearly defined “responsibilities.” Since when does a Vice-Presidential aspirant make demands of the Presidential nominee in public? Finally, there is Hillary herself, who said the Vice-President “can’t be fired.” What should be clear is Hillary would not be Vice-President but a co-President or at least a greatly empowered Vice-President with an independent power base that gives her the ability to chart a course of her own. Let’s just hope Barack realizes this if he is seriously considering her as his “Vice”-Presidential nominee.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Geraldine Ferraro Demands Barack Choose Hillary

It is one thing for people supporting Barack to push for Hillary Clinton as the Vice-Presidential nominee, dubious as the suggestion might be, they can at least suggest it would be good for party unity. It is quite another for people who don’t support Barack to push for Hillary. Geraldine Ferraro, who earlier suggested Barack’s success was because of his race and then later suggested she might not vote for Barack in November now feels free to tell him he needs to select Hillary for Vice-President saying “Obama should be “gracious” enough to offer Clinton the vice presidency, considering how narrow the race was.” This is rich to say the least, but then again, how much credence should Barack lend to a person whose own Vice-Presidential candidacy was on a ticket that won a total of one state.

It must have been a slow news day at CNN, since they have nothing better to do than push Hillary as VP. Jack Cafferty, who was critical of Hillary during the primary campaign, asks “Should Obama consider Clinton for V.P.?” It isn’t necessarily a bad question except it included only the talking points from the “PICK HILLARY OR ELSE” crowd and nothing else. Former Clinton Administration strategists David Gergen also cites the Faux Snews poll showing Hillary would boost the ticket, as if that is proof by itself. What is more he evokes the Kennedy-Johnson analogy to show that previous differences between the Presidential and Vice-Presidential nominees don’t mean they can’t be on a successful ticket. What people who push Hillary by citing Kennedy and Johnson miss is what made that match successful wouldn’t be an option with Hillary. Political rivals don’t sit easily in the same Administration unless one is clearly subordinate. LBJ was a powerless Vice-President, he was not part of the Kennedy inner circle and much of his time as Vice-President was spent on goodwill visits overseas. Hillary wouldn’t be content with such a minimal role and anyone who thinks she would is deluding themselves, her supporters have already demanded she be given significant power and responsibility.

Finally, in a recent interview, Bill Clinton continued to illustrate why the Clintons' loyalty to Barack is questionable at best. He was very tepid in his praise for Barack. Also, he declared he wasn’t a racist, even though the questioner never even raised the issue. What is more, to my knowledge, no one in Barack’s campaign ever claimed he was.

To be blunt, a possible short-term bounce from picking Hillary would not be worth the long term grief.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Hillary is still applying pressure to Barack

Although some have concluded Hillary is out of the running as Vice-President her actions seem to be saying otherwise. It has been reported that she will speak the second night of the convention, which is usually done by someone other than the person selected for Vice-President. It has also been reported that she will not ask to have her named entered in for the nomination. However, in a recent public appearance she appears very open to having her name placed in nomination, ostensibly as a sign of “respect” for her supporters.

Although it is her supporters who are saying her name should be placed in nomination, she is doing nothing to dissuade them and then lamely claims “I don’t have total control over this process.” That may be true, but she would seem sincere if she actively discouraged her supporters from placing her name in nomination because of the obvious divisiveness it would cause.

She is also cagey on the Vice-Presidential nomination, claiming she isn’t seeking it but giving reasons why Obama should select someone who, not surprisingly, has her characteristics. Left unsaid is the fact that having the threat of her name being placed in nomination for President, she retains leverage to push for a co-Presidency via the Vice-Presidency.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Clinton backer demands an empowered Vice-Presidency for Hillary and dubious Fox News poll lends support to the “Pick Hillary or else crowd”

From a constitutional point of view the Vice-President’s responsibilities are limited to presiding over the Senate (which they rarely do) and standing ready to assume the Presidency should something happen to the President. Some recent Vice-Presidents have had expanded powers, although mainly at the discretion of the President. Hillary clearly seeks not only the Vice-Presidency but expanded powers up front. Despite Hillary’s public position of deference to Obama and indifference to the Vice-Presidency, her supporters are being much more candid, some surprisingly so. No, I’m not talking about the idiot PUMAs (bitter pro-Hillary anti-Obama sore losers) but rather the former Governor of Vermont, Madeleine M. Kunin. Aside from the usual “Hillary is so great” rhetoric, today’s Op-Ed piece includes this statement.

“In order for the union [of Obama and Hillary] to work, Clinton will have to be offered a clearly defined portfolio of responsibilities.” (italics added)
Really? The sheer brazenness of that statement is stunning. When has a person seeking the Vice-Presidency every made such a demand? In public, no less! Of course this isn’t coming from the Clintons themselves, but given Kunin’s stature she isn’t just some voice in the wilderness but rather a Hillary insider. People who support Barack and are open to having Hillary is VP should consider what this type of arrangement might look like.

Poll by Faux Snews boosts “Pick Hillary or else” argument

There has always been something silly about the frequent claim by Hillary supporters that “Obama will lose unless he chooses Hillary to be his Vice-Presidential nominee.” First, I’m hard pressed to cite any polls that show Obama losing to McCain, so how they claim he will lose without her is a stretch, but a new poll from Fox suggests adding Clinton may strengthen him.

Today, Fox news released a poll that shows Obama only up by one percent (41 to 40 percent) in a head to head match with McCain. However, if Hillary is paired with Obama and Mitt Romney with McCain, this poll suggests Obama-Hillary betweens McCain-Romney by nine percent (48 to 39 percent).

What is wrong with this poll? Perhaps plenty, where to begin? First, when voters of given the option of voting for Ralph Nader or others, Barack’s lead against McCain is three percent (40 percent for Barack, 37 percent for McCain, 2 percent for Nader and the remainder “Other”, “Don’t Know” or “Not Vote”). It seems odd that, excluding the others, especially Nader, raises McCain’s vote more than Barack’s. Also other polls with head-to-head match-ups between Barack and McCain show a wider gap. The most recent NBC-Wall Street Journal poll has Obama up by six percent, Gallup’s July 21-23 sample has Obama up by two and Rasmussen has Obama up by three. Given margins of error, these polls do not necessarily contradict the Fox poll but it does suggest the Fox poll may have over sampled McCain and Hillary supporters.

Also, the comparison with potential Vice-Presidential nominees is at odds with other polls that have suggested there is no benefit to adding Hillary. Even if one takes the Fox poll at face value, it only pairs Barack and Hillary against McCain and Romney. There is no mention of other prominent Democratic VP nominees, so we don’t know the relative benefits of adding Hillary.

However, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, so I can only assume the Fox poll is flawed not phony. So, let’s assume for the sake of argument adding Hillary strengthens Barack’s chances of winning at this time. Although press coverage of Hillary has declined since she “suspended” her campaign, negative press coverage of Hillary has ended completely. What is left has been quite favorable, praising her “tenacity”, noting her warm public embrace of Obama and so forth. Plus, not burdened with the tough decisions that the nomination and the Presidency carry, she has been free to take easy votes, such as her vote against telecom immunity. The day Obama chooses Hillary, her honeymoon ends, and all her baggage will be brought back before our eyes. Even if one assumes Obama gets favorable press and they might go easy on Hillary if she is Barack’s VP, the Republicans will certainly open the Clinton scandal box. Secondly, Hillary and Bill have never played second fiddle to anyone. Given Hillary’s sense of entitlement to the Presidency, how long until she reveals her anger that she has to run as back up to a man she deemed unqualified several months ago. Even if one assumes Hillary would run a disciplined campaign as the supportive Vice-Presidential nominee, how long until Bill wonders off the reservation with some remark that causes Obama embarrassment. What is more, what does would it say to the public if Obama chooses Hillary in light of the demands of her obnoxious supporters? You can bet plenty of media pundits claim he caved and displayed weakness, perhaps with justification. Above all else, a successful Presidential candidate can’t afford to be seen as weak. Rest assured, if Hillary looks like a plus to ticket, it is only in the moment.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sorry Hillary, Vice-Presidential candidates don’t select themselves

For the last 50 years, the selection of the Vice-Presidential nominee in both parties has basically been the sole prerogative of the Presidential nominee. What is more, those who might have coveted the job were obliged by custom to at least feign indifference or perhaps outright non-interest.

The most recent exception was in 1956 when delegates at the Democratic convention actually chose the Vice-Presidential nominee, but only after Presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson threw the selection process open to the delegates. Even in this instance the prerogative of the Presidential nominee was predominant.

Never ones to be bound by custom or taste, as Hillary’s prospects for winning the top spot on the ticket grew increasingly dim in May and June, the Clintons suddenly decided, “well, okay, we’ll take the Vice-Presidency.” It wasn’t that explicit of course. First there were Clinton surrogates suggesting a so-called “dream ticket” of Obama and Hillary, then it was revealed the Bill Clinton said Hillary had “earned” an offer of the Vice-Presidency (one wonders what Bill’s reaction would have been in 1992 if he was told Paul Tsongas or Bob Kerrey had earned the offer to be his running mate and he was obliged to make the offer?). Finally, it was reported that in conversations with supporters, Hillary did not reject the plans to mount efforts to “encourage” Obama to choose her.

The taboo of expressing uninvited interest in the Vice-Presidency has been broken before. 2008 also-ran former Senator Mike Gravel submitted his name for the Vice-Presidential nomination at the Democratic convention in 1972 but was soundly trounced by the Presidential nominee George McGovern’s pick Thomas Eagleton. What is unusual is the speed in which Hillary began a campaign to anoint herself Vice-Presidential nominee and intensity of her supporters’ tactics. Blogs have been set up to promote her candidacy, Hillary supporters are being encouraged to flood online polls, they are employing hot rhetoric to demand Obama choose her.

What Hillary and supporters don’t seem to understand is Vice-Presidential nominees are not self-selected. Even if selecting her was a good idea, and it isn’t, the tactics of her supporters look like an ultimatum to Obama. For him to agree would be a sign of weakness.

The results of the MSNBC “Veepstakes” are in

The efforts of Hillary supporters to stampede the online poll came up short, Senator Joe Biden was preferred selection by 55% to 45% for Hillary. If there was an organized effort for Joe, it wasn’t apparent. I guess it was a simple case of merit. I don’t know if Barack wants Biden or Biden really would accept, but as I said before, he’d be a FAR better choice than Hillary.