Saturday, January 12, 2013

Hillary's Next Job


            It won’t be long before Hillary Clinton is released from the burden of being our nation’s Secretary of State.   It surely sounded like a decent enough gig when she took it.  But it has worn on her severely, and left her exhausted and perhaps even dangerously ill.  I’m not a doctor, but I can easily enough imagine the strain of traveling to 112 countries in four years while in your 60s.  That sounds like hell to me, and I’m more than a decade younger than she is.

            Hillary desperately needs a rest.  She needs to put away all her briefing books, confine her reading to novels and either the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal (the only two remaining serious newspapers in the United States), and get the hell out of dodge.  She might want to go to Hawaii or the Caribbean -- someplace tropical, where pleasure is worshiped, pain is avoided, and workaholism is met with two parts condescension and five parts laughter.  She needs to put aside her passions to nurture, instruct, repair, battle … even to learn.  She just needs to relax. 

That’s her job, and that will remain the case not just for days or weeks, but for months – maybe even for years.  Two, to be exact.  If she can pull it off, she will have done everything we need her to do.  And then, we must do our job:  to elect her, in a landslide, as the 45th President of the United States.    

Like most Americans, my views about Hillary Clinton have swung dramatically over the years.  In 1992, I was tremendously enthusiastic about both Clintons and even joined the Saxophone Club.   I viewed Hillary as extremely intelligent, diligent, loyal, progressive.…   What’s not to like?   

The bloom fell off the rose during her ill-fated attempt to reform our nation’s health care system.  I began to see her as monarchical and rigid – hardly the kinds of qualities we need in a statesperson.   

You could say that I had a love-hate relationship with the idea of Hillary Clinton until the lead up to the Iraq War, when she famously cast a vote to authorize the conflict.   After coming down solidly AGAINST that war, I saw her vote as a betrayal of her so-called progressive values.  To me, she was just another Washington phony – an opportunist who is interested primarily in power for its own sake.  My skepticism about Hillary only grew as she squared off against candidate Barack Obama, who appealed to me (and most other progressives) as a man of tremendous character and inspiration.   Team Barack became my team; Hillary was the opponent.    

Then, Barack Obama took office … and so did Hillary.  She had joined our team again, and that allowed us to give her a fresh look.  Soon, it became clear that she approached her job as Secretary of State in just the way we Washingtonians respect.  It was also the way she approached her job as the Junior Senator for the State of New York.

Commonly, ultra-ambitious people come to Washington with visions of constantly rising to the top.   So whenever they are given a job to do, they spent as much time thinking about how to advance their career as they spend on doing their work.   Not Hillary.  She keeps her nose to the grindstone, approaches her tasks with the appropriate humility, works her butt off at the mundane tasks at hand, learns her subject matter cold, and impresses the hell out of everyone in the process.

She’s now done that in two of the most important jobs in Government.   And consequently, she is universally appreciated on both sides of the aisle in Capitol Hill, and in Presidential palaces throughout the world.  

Barack Obama won the nomination for President in 2008 for two reasons: (a) his staff was more skilled with utilizing the new media, and (b) he was better than Hillary at the poetry of statecraft.  Even today, if you want a Presidential speechwriter, I’m not sure you call Hillary Clinton.  Unlike her husband and her current boss, she is strictly prosaic.  But that doesn’t mean she lacks vision.  And when you combine great vision, diligence, passion, and the near universal respect of her peers, you have the ingredients for a truly transformative President.

Many will point out that unlike our current President, who sometimes seems suited to be a minister (and I don’t mean a cabinet minister), Hillary is a fighter who doesn’t play by the Marquess of Queensberry rules.  That’s certainly a fair point.  But it begs the question: is that a problem or an asset?  In case you can’t tell, Washington has turned into a hornets’ nest.   If a President comes across as a nice guy, the opposing party will tear him to shreds – or at least shut down the Government while trying.  To me, Hillary’s ruthlessness is a major tool in her arsenal.  She doesn’t need to re-read Machiavelli:  she instinctively understands that it is better to be feared than loved.  But when you think about it, as Junior Senator, she became both feared AND loved by her colleagues.  It was only the rest of us out in TV land who remained skeptics.  We saw her prosaic nature, we could pick apart some of her votes, and we had plenty of Clinton fatigue after living through eight years and one impeachment proceeding.   Plus, we weren’t able to see her work her magic up close and personal.  So when it was time to determine whether she would be the first woman President of the United States, we opted out.

That was then, however.  This is now.  If her health holds up – meaning, at a minimum, that she must do what doesn’t come naturally and rest long enough to regain her strength – it is time for this country to give the woman her chance.  I cannot imagine anyone paying more dues to merit that job.  She’s been an attorney, a first lady, a Senator, and a Secretary of State.  She has clearly learned and grown along the way.  She has had tremendous failures and obvious successes, but the trend is upward.  Try to find anyone in Washington who will criticize her tenure in Foggy Bottom -- you can’t!   And what that tenure has done has reminded people of just how quickly she came to be seen as one of the leading members of the U.S. Senate.
If anyone can unify this Government, it’s Hillary.  Nobody else has the gravitas.   And lest you think that Hillary will become an unusually “polarizing” figure in the hinterland, think again.  There was a point when the Clinton name was the epitome of polarizing, but a lot has changed since then.  First, Bill became a friend of the Bushes, thereby humanizing him among the more moderate wing of the Republican Party.  Then, Hillary ran against that demon-of-demons to the American right: Barack Obama.  You know the old saw, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  Well, once Obama and Hillary entered that Octagon and began duking it out, Hillary gained the sympathies of right wingers all over the country.   No, I’m not saying she’s Fox News’ favorite politician; I’m not delusional.  But I do vividly recall how respectfully my Republican friends spoke about her as soon as it became clear that her loss would be Obama’s gain.  I’m guessing that respect remains – because like I said, EVERY American appreciates what it means to have a Secretary of State who visits 112 countries and makes hardly a gaffe.  

Oh yeah, and then there’s her gender.  Isn’t it time, folks?  We’re talking about a country that has been around for 240 years and has never been led by a female.   I’m not much for tokenism, but enough is enough.  There is no living American who can come close to matching Hillary’s qualifications for the Presidency.   She has succeeded at the upper levels of the Executive and the Legislative Branches of the United States.  For that matter, she even has accumulated valuable White House experience.  She has lived for many years in the South, the Midwest, and the East.  She has demonstrated a commitment to helping those most in need, as well as a love for policy analysis.  And as discussed above, she has garnered the tremendous respect of those who lead both political parties.  What more can we ask from a candidate than these qualifications?   

It remains possible, of course, that Hillary’s health will further deteriorate.  She has overtaxed herself in this last job; that is painfully obvious to any observer.  I’m expecting her to recover, but that remains to be seen.  Still, let’s assume I’m right.  Let’s assume that Hillary is fit, rested and ready to wrestle come January 2015.   I say that we all need to jump on that bandwagon.  We need a President who can accomplish big things, whether it comes to dealing with the National Debt, tax fairness, climate change, Middle East Peace, or a number of other major issues.   She is clearly at the top of the list. 

It is not too soon to ring the bell for Hillary.  Talk her up to your friends.  Don’t be surprised if some Republicans might even be open to her candidacy, particularly Republican women.   As long as her name is “Clinton,” she’ll have her detractors, but you don’t need 100% of the vote to win in a landslide.  I never voted for Reagan, but I came to respect him.  And my prediction is that Hillary can gain that same kind of respect from Republicans that Reagan earned with Democrats.  

Reagan changed this country profoundly.  I’ve been waiting ever since for a Democrat to do the same.  Hillary just might be the person.  We should fight for her election.


Mary Lois said...

I too have watched Hillary's growth over the years, but am less enthusiastic than you (I guess it would be impossible to be more) about having her in the White House again. I realize she would probably win if she were to run again--in polls she is the most popular person on the planet--and I would be pleased to have a woman president. I just don't see her in the role. Her skills are not those needed for the job, from what I can tell. I've heard that she has been an outstanding Secretary of State, but I don't see the evidence. She didn't make much of a mark as a senator except in her ability to get positive press coverage. I think, most importantly, that it is time for her to do what she wants to do and not what Bill wants her to do. According to those covering the exhausting campaign against Barack Obama she hung in there so long, against all odds of winning, because she needed to impress him. I cannot imagine how grueling that aspect of political life must have been.

But I can imagine what she needs now. As you say, rest, and time to assess what to do with her life. She is being pressured from all sides to run, win, score one for the women of the country, etc. But, listen everybody: It's her life. She's overachieved long enough. Let her have time in her 70s to choose what she wants to do--organize for women or charities--or charities for women world-wide--whatever is her choice and not that of others--and call her time her own for a change. She may even have a grandchild or two before the next four years are past. Again I find myself in the minority, but I know what it's like to be a woman around 70. The fast track loses its appeal, the fire in the belly is tamped down, the heart needs attention, and serenity is more appealing than it ever was before. I think she deserves to make her own decision, but I don't think I could ever vote for her. (Not that she would need that one.)

Daniel Spiro said...

Thanks for the comment, Mary Lois. Clearly, I don't know what it's like to be a woman over 70, and I am assuming that she will still have fire in the belly. If that assumption is wrong, then my conclusion may be wrong.

But consider that Reagan was much more "effective" (meaning in implementing HIS agenda, not necessarily in implementing mine), then he was vigorous. We're not talking about electing a triathlete; we're talking about electing someone who could bring together the nation in support of the changes that need to be done.

Perhaps the best analogy to Hillary would be LBJ. Was he perfect? Not even close. But did he do important things that fundamentally changed this country in a positive direction? I think so.

Finally, I should add that as Secretary of State, she doesn't outweigh the President when it comes to setting policy. She carries out Administration policy. And, she serves as chief ambassador to the world. Because of her, I believe, this country is viewed more favorably overseas. But she's not a miracle worker. Ultimately, it's Obama's Administration.