11.24.2008

Obama & Clinton: Change We Can't Believe

by Phil Kehres*
Special to iVoryTowerz

President-elect Barack Obama’s unofficial nomination of Hillary Clinton to Secretary of State is not change we can believe in. After running a hard-fought campaign that painted Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as “more of the same,” Obama decided to go with someone whose face and name has saturated the talk shows and headlines for years.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama was one of the most exciting parts of the presidential campaign for me. Watching Powell over the years, despite his regrettable gaffe at the U.N. before the Iraq War, made him one of my favorite politicians, if only because he wasn’t really a politician. He is superbly intelligent, rational, and level-headed. Based on my anecdotal experience at the State Department, most employees preferred Powell’s military organizational style over Condoleezza Rice’s harsher top-down rule. They said Powell valued everyone’s opinion and treated them as if each was one of his “soldiers” and making decisions based on bottom-up analysis. So when Powell endorsed Obama, I was sure he’d find a way into Obama’s cabinet, possibly reprising his role as Secretary of State.

Instead, Obama chose one of the most divisive figures in American politics to be the face of American interests overseas. Yes, Sen. Clinton (D-NY) was a bitter rival, but by skipping over Powell, Obama missed a chance to truly reach across the aisle and send a message that he wanted the best people for the most important jobs. Obama missed an opportunity to say he wasn’t interested in the petty political bickering that follows the Clinton name.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Clinton will do a fine job. Like Powell, she is intelligent and rational. Initially, I was incensed by word of her nomination, but let’s be honest — it’s not like Obama appointed Bill Ayers to head up the Department of Homeland Security. Still, the appointment seems so conciliatory and borders on cronyism. It’s as if Obama said “hey Hillary, good campaign — here’s the State Department for your troubles.”

Maybe I was clinging irrationally to some naïve sense of hope that Obama would do things differently, that he’d really embrace his motto of change. Maybe I drank too much of the Kool-Aid, but I can’t help but feel that Obama dropped the ball here. Instead of change, he has opened the floodgates for another four years of criticism and obstructionism from the Republicans and their revived philosophical leader Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House. Not to mention talking head bombast from the likes of Sean Hannity and his ilk.

Of course, that’s the worst-case scenario. To those that share my initial disappointment, let’s not get too jaded yet. Clinton has the experience and the mentality to be a more-than-capable Secretary of State. And it’s not like she and Obama see eye-to-eye on everything — quite the contrary, in fact. Indeed, the two could prove to be valuable checks on each others’ inclinations. In addition, this appointment is an opportunity for Clinton to finally prove, on a national scale, that she can separate herself from the ever-lurking shadow of her husband’s polarizing and controversial past.

*Phil Kehres is one of the authors of Excuse Me, Is That Your Blog? He served as an intern at the State Department and worked for the State Department in Uzbekistan, among other assignments.

For other commentaries on Sen. Clinton, please see these archival posts:

(Political graphic © copyright Comandante Agi and used with permission; you can see more of the comandante's political graphics at his blogs, PIME and Guys from Area 51.)









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