We must be getting close to Christmas—even Shrum is getting sentimental!
In the leak of Hillary Clinton’s name as a prospective secretary of state, Shrum conjures a scene out of Stover at Yale: the hand extended in sportsmanship to the defeated opponent.
“Well played, Hill. Here, let’s get the dust off you.”
“You hit hard, Barry. But it was a clean hit.”
“It could have gone the other way just as easily, Hill. We need you to keep fighting for Varsity. I want you as my deputy captain.”
Or possibly the scene comes by way of Parson Weems …
Now, let’s tell a story for grown-ups.
Obama and Clinton are engaged in a complex series of maneuvers, animated on each side by—surprise!—self-seeking motives.
The leak—with its list of possible alternates, including another defeated presidential rival, Bill Richardson—seemed to emanate from the Obama side. Now here’s a question to consider: Why does a president-elect leak news that a job has been offered? Why doesn’t he wait until the offer has been accepted, and then go public with the accomplished fact, thereby sparing himself the risk of public rejection?
News of the offer confers a series of benefits on Obama. It makes him look magnanimous. It also solves a very practical problem. There do not seem to be many women in Obama’s rumored top tier appointments. With Joe Biden in the veep’s office, Rahm Emanuel as chief of staff, Bob Gates retained at Defense, Tom Daschle at Health and Human Services, Eric Holder at Justice, and, very possibly, James Steinberg as National Security Adviser, it’s testosterone, testosterone, testosterone. Aggravating the problem is the fact that the front-runner for Treasury Secretary—Larry Summers, whose reign as president of Harvard University was short-circuited by his transgressions against political correctness—remains a special demon figure among feminists. What better way to placate Democratic women than by circulating Hillary Clinton’s name for the most honorific cabinet post of all?
Note, too, that by circulating her name, Obama makes it difficult for Hillary to say no. Can she afford to be less gracious in defeat than Obama has been in victory? But if she says yes—poof, there vanishes her independent power base. She serves at the pleasure of the president. More consequential still, in order to pass the vetting process, she must open to Obama’s team all the tangled financial records of the Clinton family. If there is any part of her that imagines, say, a primary challenge to Obama in 2012, or even a campaign to replace Biden on the ticket in the VP slot, that hope diminishes with the opening of the files. She will have done Obama’s oppo research for him. From then on, she is utterly exposed and vulnerable.
She gets only what Obama chooses to give.
Obama talked of change. But in politics, some things never change. One of those things is the hard reality of power. The other—sorry Bob!—is our perpetual susceptibility to gauzy illusions about the motives and actions of those who wield it.