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11-24-08, 10:47 PM #1
Barack Obama's aides believe he has made a mistake in hiring Hillary Clinton
In the office block in downtown Washington where Barack Obama's White House transition team are at work, there is no time for breaks.
Lunch is taken at desks. Staff need a good reason to go out at all.
But a little after lunch on Wednesday two Obama aides went to a local coffee shop to talk. Both were veterans of the campaign, hailed as the best organised and most disciplined in US history, which has made their boss the first black president.
Both had come to believe, in the crucible of the campaign, that Mr Obama's judgment was superior to their own. But when they met on Wednesday they agreed on one thing: "He's making a mistake." As one of the participants told a friend later that night: "She'll do a good job but she'll do it for herself, not for Barack. I can't bear the drama again."
She, of course, is Hillary Clinton, former First Lady, figurehead of Democratic women, presidential candidate with 18 million votes and now would-be Secretary of State.
On Friday night the week-long saga appeared to be drawing to a close, with Clinton aides indicating that the former First Lady would accept the post first proffered by Mr Obama a week ago on Thursday.
Mr Obama is expected to make a formal appointment after the coming week's Thanksgiving celebrations, but the leaking and briefing and media obsession with every twist and turn has left many wondering whether the Clinton psychodrama could overshadow Mr Obama's first term in office.
Events unfolded, in a manner reminiscent of a film noir, with Mrs Clinton cast in the role of the femme fatale: a queen of melodrama too important too ignore, but potentially lethal to the hero's success.
The news was first greeted with excitement. Here was Mr Obama seeking to emulate his hero Abraham Lincoln by packing his war cabinet with former enemies, a strategy recounted in Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, Team of Rivals, which Mr Obama repeatedly cites as a favourite.
Few, initially, doubted Mrs Clinton's credentials. Peter Fenn, a Democratic media consultant was typical in hailing her as "an excellent choice for Secretary of State". He said: "Senator Clinton has visited 82 countries, knows the world's leaders and would be able to assemble her team and move quickly to assist President Obama at noon on January 20."
A week ago the main stumbling block was thought to be husband Bill, who has taken foreign financial donations for his philanthropic Clinton Foundation and his presidential library, both potential conflicts of interests with his wife's future work. On Wednesday, after intensive negotiations, Mr Clinton agreed to release the names of major donors, step back from day to day control of his foundation and alert the state department to his speaking schedule. Late on Thursday, Obama sources began to confirm that the vetting had been successful, the safeguards in place.
Only the comedian Jay Leno addressed what would once have been the major talking point about the ex-Oval Office hound dog: "While Hillary is concentrating on foreign affairs, Bill can go back to concentrating on domestic affairs," he joked.
But the bigger hurdle was the way the atmosphere of permanent campaign and conflict that is in both Clintons' blood, quickly dissolved into mutual suspicion and paranoia with the Obama camp - something that seems likely to continue into government.
The Obama aides who went for coffee on Wednesday discussed how the initial tentative talks between Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton were leaked by the Clinton camp, then how every twist and turn of the financial vetting found its way into the media.
Those in Mrs Clinton's camp who wanted her to take the job wanted the financial issue off the table believing Mr Obama would find any excuse not to give her the job.
"They can't help themselves," the Obama aide told his friend, a fellow Democrat strategist. "Every event is a potential ladder up or a bullet to be dodged. They're positioning and spinning all the time. They lost. Now we seem to be handing them the farm."
Most shocking to Mr Obama's team is the loss of discipline and control that they have experienced since coming to Washington.
The President-elect's campaign was tightly controlled, with very few uncoordinated leaks. The candidate was known as "No Drama Obama." David Corn, Washington Bureau Chief of the left of centre magazine Mother Jones, summed up the problem: "The presidential transition of no-drama Obama became infected by the never-ending soap opera of the Clintons. And it really is time to turn that programme off."
The Washington Post columnist and Clinton sceptic, David Ignatius, added: "The idea of subcontracting foreign policy to Clinton, a big, hungry, needy ego surrounded by a team that's hungrier and needier still, strikes me as a mistake of potentially enormous proportions." It is a view that many around the President-elect now share.
The transition team has policy as well as personality concerns. Mr Obama's allies on the left, who think themselves responsible for his victories over both Mrs Clinton and John McCain, are in despair at the long line of ex-Clinton administration officials awarded top jobs in the Obama team and rumours that he will keep Bush-appointee Robert Gates as Defence Secretary.
Mr Obama also incurred their wrath for intervening to protect the Senate committee chairmanships of Joe Lieberman, the Democrat who supported his Republican rival John McCain.
By appointing Mrs Clinton, some aides fear the new president will also water down his commitment to withdraw quickly from Iraq, to talk to leaders of rogue states and to get tough with Pakistan, all policies Mrs Clinton has spoken out against.
Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, the dean of Washington's foreign policy writers, warned: "When it comes to appointing a secretary of state, you do not want a team of rivals. Foreign leaders can spot daylight between a president and a secretary of state from 1,000 miles away."
The antics of some Clinton allies have also reinforced the notion that the former First Lady is a poor manager, who failed during her campaign to referee internecine warfare among her aides.
The Democrat strategist said: "The state department is demoralised after the Bush years but it's a big department and you need to successfully manage and motivate those people if you're going to have a successful foreign policy. Management is not Hillary's strong suit."
But Mr Obama seems to have concluded that Mrs Clinton might be less harm politically if she is part of his administration. That is a view tacitly shared by some Clinton aides in the Senate, who wanted her to have a separate power base there for exactly that reason.
A second Democrat close to her senior staff told The Sunday Telegraph that Mrs Clinton had not expected the offer and had mentally been planning to forge her future in the Senate, culminating in a tilt at the Majority Leader's job after the midterm elections in two years time.
Republican strategist Andrea Tantaros said: "This isn't just keep your friends close and your enemies closer. This is keep your friends close and your enemies under your thumb."
On Thursday morning the New York Times reported that Mrs Clinton herself was agonising over whether to take the job.
That came just hours after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Ted Kennedy, the leader of the health committee, privately mapped out plans to create a new post for Mrs Clinton, coordinating a working group on healthcare. That would have given her Congressional leadership, with Mr Kennedy, of an issue that has been her signature for a decade or more.
The leaks on Thursday night that Mr Obama would name Mrs Clinton Secretary of State, along with the rest of his national security team, after Thursday might be an attempt to force her hand.
Allies of Mrs Clinton say she made up her mind after several conversations with Mr Obama, saying that the once "grudging respect" between the two has morphed into a desire to work together.
But many sceptical Obama aides will reserve judgement for a month, or a year, or two on whether their boss still has better judgment than them.
Steven Clemons, senior fellow at the left-leaning think tank the New America Foundation, summed up their dilemma: "This rock star President-elect may either be confused, deluded and self-destructive in sculpting a team that has a high probability of paralysing itself in vicious internal skirmishes - or he may just be brilliant, really, really brilliant."
What is certain is that Hillary Clinton is here to stay - and it won't be dull.
11-25-08, 10:44 AM #2
In similar news, water found to be wet. Sky blue."If everyone is thinking alike, then someone isn't thinking." -Gen. George S. Patton
11-25-08, 10:55 AM #3
Lenin and Trotsky made room for Stalin. Trotsky was murdered in Mexico, who knows what Lenin really died from.Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for awhile and leave footprints on our hearts. And we are never, ever the same.-- Anonymous
Old People, like me, may not be around to witness the destruction of our Nation. The rest of you may not survive the collapse. We all have the sworn duty to prevent it.
The light of hope burns brighter than the fires of doom.
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