"Well, she's done it," said my buddy Al, as I entered his coffee shop yesterday.
"Who's done what?" I asked. "Don't tell me Mrs. Palin is putting out a new rock album and going on tour!"
"No, no, no," replied Al. "Nothing like that. I'm talking about Hillary Clinton. She's done it."
"But what has she done, Al?" I asked. "Did she help her family and guests escape from New York by giving them covering fire so they could get to their cars?"
"No," said Al, "She's hit the big time. She's going to head up the new Obama administration. He has named her Secretary of State. It's unbelievable."
As I had been out of the news loop for several days, while our kids and grandkids visited us over Thanksgiving, this hit me as something of a shock. I had to sit down and ask Al for a double shot of kahlua in my coffee as I digested the news.
For months following Mr. Obama's capture of the Democratic nomination, Al and I had debated whether Mr. Obama would choose Mrs. Clinton as vice president. We both agreed that he would never (if he had any brains) let her (and Bill) anywhere near the Oval Office - a mere heartbeat away from the presidency itself, with just one crazed Hillary-supporter needed to elevate her to the top spot. Putting her on the ticket would be insane, we thought.
In this judgment, at least, we were vindicated. Mr. Obama won handily without Mrs. Clinton, as a perfect storm of financial crises and voter-fear swept him into office. On January 20th he will be sworn in as our first president of African descent - a historic achievement for a nation that was legally holding Africans in slavery just 150 years ago. (But I digress.)
Al and I never thought Mr. Obama would put Mrs. Clinton in his cabinet, for the simple reason that we didn't imagine she would accept a cabinet post. Even State, the cabinet's senior office, seemed too limiting for Mrs. Clinton's lofty ambitions. Four years of implementing Mr. Obama's plan to make nice with the world's thugs, brigands, and terrorists did not seem Hill's style, nor did the risk her appointment would represent seem acceptable to him. Suppose a disagreement arose between them on something? How could he dismiss her without creating a huge uproar in his own party, as well as sounding an "uncertain trumpet" to other countries?
As Al and I see it, Mr. Obama's appointment of Mrs. Clinton as Secretary of State might have any of at least three possible motives. First, it is possible that Mr. Obama has finally realized that Mr. Biden is an empty suit on foreign policy. (Probably he always knew that.) Sitting on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for twenty years doesn't necessarily impute expertise and wisdom. Mr. Biden's record and public statements raise serious questions over whether he really understands America's role in combating evil in the world. Has anyone noticed that he became the incredible shrinking VP as soon as the votes were cast? (Where have they put the guy?) If he really were poised to play a key foreign policy role for Mr. Obama, a much weaker Secretary of State would have been proposed. Mrs. Clinton is obviously the Biden-antidote. With her in place, Mr. Biden will rarely be heard from again.
Second, Mr. Obama might see Mrs. Clinton as a high-profile diversion on the world stage, while he implements his social "vision" for the USA, below the radar. Mrs. Clinton loves headlines, so he'll let her have all she wants, while he implements policies that would never get through Congress - even a Democratic Congress. His primary tool for doing this - barely mentioned by media "watchdogs", who seem practically drugged - is the presidential executive order. One report said Mr. Obama's staff have prepared as many as 200 executive orders - many of them canceling Mr. Bush's orders - to "put Mr. Obama's stamp" on the country at the earliest moment.
One of the most far-reaching of these might re-impose the ban on offshore oil drilling. As gas soared above $4 a gallon in the summer, Democrats claimed - almost hysterically, one might say - that lifting the bans imposed earlier by George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton would not lower prices. Yet since Mr. Bush lifted the drilling ban in mid-July, oil has dropped by $100 a barrel, and gas prices by over 50%. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi raged about the "war-dance of the handmaidens of Big Oil," but Congress let its own offshore drilling ban expire on September 30th. Thereafter, world oil prices crashed completely.
Re-imposing the presidential ban will almost certainly send oil (and gas) prices back up. Counter-intuitively, Mr. Obama seems determined to do this. This and other executive orders will change our lives and finances dramatically. We'll wonder what has happened, but the media will give us no clue. Nor will Mr. Obama, who will control the media by giving them more of Hillary.
Finally, the world is a dangerous place, filled with wicked people who mean us harm. I believe Mr. Obama has always known this, but his campaign downplayed it for the benefit of his left-leaning anti-war constituency. He preached that good will and superior negotiating would bring both friends and enemies to the table of sweet reason. All of our differences would be worked out; there would be no more wars; and a golden age of peace would dawn upon the world.
Mr. Obama has back-pedaled and waffled on this simplistic vision so many times that one hardly knows where he stands now. He surely realizes, if he didn't earlier, that a young, inexperienced president could really get hurt out there - both literally and figuratively - trying to make kiss-kiss with thugs who post videotaped beheadings on the Internet. Thus, making Hillary Clinton his "point man" for foreign affairs is a masterstroke. If she achieves something constructive, he will look like a genius. If she fails, the failure will be entirely on her head. Mr. Obama's erstwhile rival and possible future opponent will be damaged, while he can righteously maintain that he appointed her hoping she could help the country. The appointment is brilliant for the protection it affords Mr. Obama. If somebody gets hurt, he won't be the one.
In truth, Mrs. Clinton's foreign policy "experience" is no greater than Joe Biden's - and arguably is less. It consists mostly of visits to foreign countries as First Lady (not counting her imagined dodging of enemy fire at Tuzla airport, in 1996). Mrs. Clinton might not know much more about being Secretary of State than your average foreign affairs grad student. But like many Secretaries of State before her, she will employ her political acumen on the world stage, while her personal toughness helps her herd the "cats" at State. Her ability to talk sweet or kick butt, as situations demand, will shape her perceived performance in this high-visibility office. In another amazing display of legerdemain, she has snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat and obscurity. No shrinking violet, she.
The "dangling participle" in Mrs. Clinton's paragraph, of course, is her loveable lug of a hubby - the peripatetic Bubba, over whom respectable middle-aged women still swoon. Keeping him out of her hair will be a challenge. One wag suggested she might send Bill to Iceland for prolonged fact-finding. It sounds like a winner for both her and Bill. Iceland is cold, but I hear its blondes are hot.