Now that United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice has dropped out of consideration to be President Obama's next Secretary of State, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) has jumped to the front of the line. Kerry has a strong resume. The 2004 presidential nominee is a decorated Vietnam veteran and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He's one of a select group of politicians and experienced diplomatic hands with the stature to take over when Hillary Clinton leaves the job as Obama's second term begins. But would Kerry be a smart pick? Here, four factors to consider:
1. Kerry is more than qualified
"Three qualities make Kerry a good fit for this moment," says David Ignatius at The Washington Post. "First, he recognizes that the world is a mess, starting with the chaotic Arab nations, and that it needs stronger American diplomatic leadership." He'd be a good and steady hand in the changing Arab world. Second, he "appreciates the importance of quiet diplomacy." He has shown how it's done in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that experience will be valuable in the Syrian transition to come. Third, though he comes across as stiff, Kerry's not afraid to "challenge conventional wisdom," and he'd probably be quicker to take bold steps than "other potential nominees, especially the younger, less experienced Rice."
2. But he has his faults
Kerry may do a passable job "casting votes and opining on the Sunday talk shows," says Michael Rubin at Commentary. But running an agency the size of the State Department is sure to prove beyond him. The man is "serially indecisive" — just ask his former staffers. "Simple decisions regarding which of two candidates should receive a promotion on his staff could take six months." He's notorious for mulling over decisions "long after others on both sides of the aisle had made up their minds." His instincts are bad — he once referred to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as "my dear friend," and his public posture on Syria has been an embarrassment. "It is doubtful that anyone will tell the Massachusetts senator that the emperor has no clothes. That is too bad, because the damage an indecisive and arrogant executive can do to the policy and practice of U.S. foreign policy is immense."
3. He would be easier to confirm than Rice
Kerry has as many friends in the Senate as Rice has enemies, says Paul Bedard at the Washington Examiner. Rice's confirmation hearing would have been a mud fight that would have cost Obama plenty of political capital, with no guarantee of victory. Kerry's will be far more cordial. Many leading GOP senators have already gone public with their support for the Massachusetts Democrat. "I think Kerry would sail through as secretary of State since so many senators have already said that he has the right judgment and experience for that position," said a top aide to a Senate Republican leader. "Particularly after the Republican freakout over Rice," says Ed Kilgore at Washington Monthly, "the odds of his fellow-senators giving him an unusually hard time in the confirmation process are low."
4. Giving him the job could cost Democrats a Senate seat in Massachusetts
"If Kerry is chosen, his seat in the United States Senate will be subject to a special election in 2013," says Harry J. Enten at Britain's The Guardian. "Republicans almost certainly have zero chance of winning — unless soon-to-be-former Sen. Scott Brown, who just lost to Democrat Elizabeth Warren, runs." Before Brown won the late Ted Kennedy's old seat during the "Republican romp in 2010," the state hadn't sent a Republican to the Senate since 1972. If he did win, he'd have to run again in 2014, when Kerry's term ends, and "a Republican winning a Senate seat in Massachusetts three times in five years could be considered equivalent to Adam Sandler winning an Oscar three times in five years." Still, the GOP would have a shot at the seat, which is more than it has now.