Saturday, 19 December 2009
I recently read an interesting piece on New Right blog about Hillary Clinton. I commented there that I had an American friend with a strong interest in politics, and that I would ask him for his point of view on Mrs Clinton’s current position, and her future. I speculated whether I could prevail upon my friend to write something on the subject. I did, and he agreed to write a guest article. My grateful thanks then to Danny, 1st Earl of the Ozarks.
Hillary Clinton’s emergence as the star of the Obama administration cabinet is full of personal and political irony. As Secretary of State, she has indeed shown the world that new “tone,” if not hugely altered substance, of American foreign policy. Of course, with her unparalleled name and face recognition, and the message that George W. Bush is no longer in charge, she was sure to be well received on the world stage. But her personal popularity at home, even as the president’s approval ratings have plummeted, was less predictable and perhaps more gratifying.
Hillary was awarded the prize position in the cabinet. It is after all the seat once occupied by Thomas Jefferson. But for Hillary, it was a consolation prize. After all, she had been considered a shoo-in to be the 44th President of the United States, until eclipsed by the rock star popularity of the junior senator from Illinois. But she might well have been chosen to run for Vice President on the Democratic ticket. This could have been a shrewd political calculus on Obama’s part to unite his eternally fractious party for the general election, after the bitter and hard fought primary campaign for the Democratic nomination. But having Hillary down the hall from the Oval Office might have absorbed some of the presidential glory. More importantly perhaps, she would have brought some negative Clinton era political baggage to the ticket. And her supporters were likely to vote the Democratic ticket anyway.
So Senator Biden, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, got the nomination instead. In fact he had been offered his choice of the Vice Presidency OR Secretary of State. Hillary received no such choice. But she’s been loyal to Obama and has attacked the job at State with enthusiasm. She’s shown the flag abroad and made few missteps while clearly setting the new tone for American policy. At some point Hillary may be expected to show some tangible progress on the intractable problems of Iran, North Korea, the Palestinians, and of course the enduring Bush legacy of Iraq and Afghanistan. But that time is not yet.
Hillary has been a team player and professes no future ambitions except retirement. But time will tell. With a continuing unemployment rate over ten percent, and a history of losses in mid-term elections by the party of the president in power, the Democrats face tough congressional elections in 2010. They could even lose control of the House of Representatives. This would be a disaster for Obama’s future legislative program. And what the political landscape will look like for Obama’s second term bid in 2012 is anybody’s guess. Perhaps a newly popular and reenergized Hillary could play a part in reviving Democratic fortunes.
Historically, presidents have shuffled vice presidents for political convenience. FDR had three different VP’s in his four terms. But more recently, this hasn’t been the pattern. A move to elbow Biden aside in favor of Hillary, with an eye to a Clinton run in 2016, would carry its own dangers within the factions of the Democratic Party. And Hillary will be 69 years old in 2016, an advanced age for a physically taxing presidential run. On the other hand, Ronald Reagan did it in 1980, at the same age.
As for a possible Supreme Court appointment for Hillary, this seems less likely than a presidential run. An individual who serves on the Supreme Court has life tenure, and can nullify the actions of presidents and congresses with the stroke of a pen. Consequently, the Senate confirmation process is the very next thing to a political blood sport. Distinguished jurists emerge from the process bruised and bloodied. Her degree from Yale Law notwithstanding, she is fundamentally a politician, not a jurist. FDR could and did make such appointments, but it’s hard to imagine a modern president doing so.
So, a future for Hillary beyond her leadership at State seems problematical. Maybe, at the age of 69, she really will be ready for retirement. But, I wouldn’t wager big money on it either. She’s a tough lady, and might not be ready for the rocking chair.