Trust Obama on Clinton

If he picks her as secretary of state, she's the right choice.

Published November 20, 2008 11:31AM (EST)

I find myself in a very strange position this week. When the world was overtaken by Obamamania last year, I was a late swooner. Some may recall that I even occasionally criticized the Democratic nominee. So why am I mainly happy with the way Obama's handled the presidential transition, when so many early swooners, especially in the blogosphere and mainstream media, are so critical?

Since his most controversial move is (reportedly) considering Hillary Clinton for secretary of state, it's clear my respect for Clinton has a lot to do with it. I thought she'd be an excellent president, so it's not surprising I think she'd be a good choice for secretary of state. She's smart and tough, has a lot of respect worldwide, she had an international portfolio as first lady, and she's strengthened that experience as a senator and on the Armed Services Committee. She'd also be a strong voice for women's rights globally.

But there's one qualification to my belief that she'd be a good choice: I only think so if Barack Obama thinks so. If he believes she can contribute to his foreign policy, but most important, carry it out; that she can represent him well and inform his worldview; that she can improve our standing abroad, well, then, I believe she can, too. This choice is neither a popularity contest nor a meritocracy; it's all about the person the president believes can best represent his foreign policy and America's interests in the world. He has to deeply trust the man or woman in that role.

One reason I believe Clinton could loyally represent Obama's foreign policy is that I think the differences between them were exaggerated for political reasons during the primary season. He had a political stake in portraying her as a hawk; she had one in portraying him as naive and unready. He was right about Iraq from the get-go and she was wrong, but their positions on how to get out were virtually identical. Despite their debates about how and when to sit down with dictators, I think they'd take much the same approach to dealing with both our enemies and our friends. So it makes sense to me that Obama would seriously consider her for the post.

Now, if they continue to talk and he has doubts about her capacity to loyally represent him abroad; if concerns emerge about President Clinton's global dealings; if any number of genuine troubles arise that convince Obama that despite his initial enthusiasm, it's not the right choice, I'll accept that. The only bad reason not to pick Hillary Clinton as secretary of state is the predictable media mob of Clinton haters telling him not to.

I just finished a "Hardball" debate on this with Michelle Bernard, who said it was "bordering on sheer lunacy" that Obama was considering Clinton. My friend Chris Matthews, no Clinton fan, led off the segment blaming the Clintons for the flurry of leaks about her possible appointment, although I reminded him that when NBC's Andrea Mitchell broke the news last week, she cited only Obama sources. It's clear there's more leaking from the Obama transition team -- about Rahm Emanuel, Eric Holder and Tom Daschle, not just Clinton -- than there was from the campaign team. Rather amazingly, Matthews said I won him over with my argument that people who trust and believe in Obama should trust him on the choice of Clinton as secretary of state as well. We'll see.

Meanwhile, the selection of former Sen. Tom Daschle as secretary of Health and Human Services should mollify those who were beginning to wonder whether Obama was leaning too heavily on Clinton loyalists in his staff and Cabinet picks. My God, it just seems early to worry. He has a ton of appointments left. The only reason Clinton is getting so much attention is that Clinton haters are making her the top story. Who's going to be secretary of the Treasury, and how should he or she modify the bailout Henry Paulson is managing so poorly? Who's Obama's education pick, and what can that person do to improve American education, especially for low-income kids? Why aren't we debating those questions all day and night on cable news? Trust me: It's not because Bill Clinton is holding a gun to someone's head, demanding that we talk about him and his wife 24/7, no matter what Christopher Hitchens might claim.


By Joan Walsh

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2008 Elections