Barack Obama’s serious flirtation with his one-time rival, Hillary Clinton, over the post of secretary of State has been welcomed by everyone from Henry Kissinger to Bill Clinton as an effective, grand gesture by the president-elect.
It’s not playing quite as well, however, in some precincts of Obamaland. From his supporters on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, to campaign aides of the soon-to-be commander-in-chief, there’s a sense of ambivalence about giving a top political plum to a woman they spent 18 months hammering as the compromised standard-bearer of an era that deserves to be forgotten.
“These are people who believe in this stuff more than Barack himself does,” said a Democrat close to Obama’s campaign. “These guys didn’t put together a campaign in order to turn the government over to the Clintons.”
An overlooked theme in Obama’s primary victory was his belief that the Clinton legacy was not, as the Clintons imagined, a pure political positive. The Obama campaign had no compunctions about poking holes in that legacy and even sent out mailings stressing the downside of the last “8 years of the Clintons” – enraging the former president in particular.
And the clearest opposition to the Clinton appointment comes from Obama’s backers on the left of his own party, whose initial support for him was motivated in part by a distaste for the Clinton dynasty, and who now view her reemergence with some dismay.
“There’s always a risk of a Cabinet member freelancing and that risk is enhanced by the fact that Hillary has her own public and her own celebrity and that she comes attached to Bill,” said Robert Kuttner, a Clinton critic and former American Prospect editor whose new book, Obama’s Challenge, implores the president-elect to adopt an expansive liberal agenda. “The other question is the old rule – never hire somebody you can’t fire. What happens if her views and his views don’t mesh?”
“The silver lining, for those of us who are skeptical, is that it drastically limits the number of other Clinton administration alums that he can appoint, and that’s a blessing,” Kuttner said.
Kuttner hastened to add that Clinton is “very smart” and capable, and that her appointment would be “greeted very well worldwide. And other Democratic foreign policy thinkers who are eager to work in, or with, the Obama administration declined to comment on the record, though they noted that foreign policy was an area that marked some of the deepest disagreements between Clinton and Obama.
Some key Obama-Clinton differences: Whether to meet face-to-face with leaders of hostile regimes (he was more open to the idea than she was) and her vote to authorize the war in Iraq.
“The specific policy area at issue seems to be one in which the two of them aren’t all that well-aligned,” wrote the liberal blogger Matthew Yglesias.
On Capitol Hill, however, even some of the left’s most normally unshrinking violets publicly backed a plan that appears to be almost a fait accompli.
“Sen. Clinton is one of the brightest people in Congress and she would be an excellent choice,” Vermont’s independent senator, Bernie Sanders, told Politico through a spokesman.