On MSNBC's "Hardball" tonight, Pat Buchanan was not only insisting Barack Obama should pick Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, he also gave Obama advice about handling his left-wing base – and it's not what you'd expect. Buchanan suggested that with his next Cabinet pick, "he ought to give someone to the Daily Kos ... the people who supported and elected him."
This on a day when one anonymous Democratic aide bragged to Chris Cilizza that letting Joe Lieberman keep his chairmanship would mean: "The left has been foiled again. They can rant and rage but they still do not put the fear into folks to actually change their votes. Their influence would be in question." It's odd that Buchanan shows more respect for the left than leading Democrats do. The Lieberman decision is an abomination, and Obama and the Democrats may well regret it. Buchanan is no friend of the left, obviously, but he's an old-time pol who understands the importance of keeping the base happy. Too many Democrats seem to think the first thing they should do when they get power is display contempt for their base.
But I think it's important to keep the Democrats' and Obama's moves on Lieberman separate from the way we assess his Cabinet choices right now. I’m obviously not someone who sees Hillary Clinton as a bad, anti-change appointment; I think she'd make a terrific secretary of state. I have no problem with Eric Holder as attorney general, either; I think he'd fix the Justice Department that Bush destroyed, and I'm happy to see that Obama isn't afraid to make an African-American his first official Cabinet pick. I wish Holder had tried to block the awful Marc Rich pardon when he was deputy attorney general in the Clinton administration, but I'm not sure a lot of deputies would have stood up on that issue.
Still, I understand the disappointment of some Obama supporters, watching so many Clinton staffers line up for jobs in the change administration. I don't share their disappointment, because I honestly didn't believe there was much difference between Clinton and Obama, and how they would govern, in the first place. Some of the angst seems a little goofy: It's always been true that a lot of people closest to Obama during the campaign -- Holder, new White House counsel Greg Craig, foreign policy advisors Susan Rice and Anthony Lake; after the primary, Rahm Emanuel – once worked for the Clintons. So should they be seen as Clinton loyalists, or the new Obama team? It's funny how they were all seen as part of the new politics of change represented by Obama -- until he started building his administration, and then the mainstream media (and a few on the left) started deriding them as old school.
So while I think anger about the Lieberman maneuver is justified, I think it's way too early to panic about Obama's Democratic status-quo Cabinet. He's got plenty of time for unconventional picks.
Meanwhile, I don't know what to think on the Hillary Clinton front. It seems very strange that the Obama team revealed this possible appointment, and yet five days later, it's still little more than a well-sourced rumor. Are they really letting the media vet Clinton -- and Bill Clinton -- to see if they're worth the trouble? That doesn't seem like the Obama we've come to know, who appears to be a person of courage and integrity. All of Clinton's pluses -- intelligence, experience, stature on the world stage -- and minuses -- certain policy differences with Obama, her husband's baggage -- were well known before anybody ever mentioned a possible Clinton Cabinet post to a reporter. It's an odd mini-drama that's dragging out longer than it should, but this time it doesn't seem as though Clinton is to blame.