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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Obama’s Tough Choice: Clinton or Richardson for State

Of all the tough choices President-elect Obama will face between now and the inauguration, none are likely to have more far-reaching political consequences than his pick for Secretary of State. The two front-runners, Senator Clinton and Governor Richardson also happen to be the most prominent female and Hispanic leaders, respectively, in the Democratic Party, and it looks like both may want the post. Jonathan Weisman reports on Obama’s dilemma in the Wall Street Journal

Sen. Clinton, of New York, could be a crowd pleaser in that role, and she has staunch advocates in Rahm Emanuel, the new chief of staff, and transition director John Podesta, according to Democrats familiar with the transition process…But Mr. Obama risks alienating Latino supporters if he passes over New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, currently the favorite of a lobbying campaign by Hispanic activists, for the State Department job.

It’s hard to imagine either Richardson or Clinton being satisfied with any post south of State as a consolation prize. Richardson’s bio practically screams “future Secretary of State,” and, as a 2-time Clinton administration appointee, he went out on a long limb endorsing Obama. But picking Richardson would almost certainly crank up ire among Clinton’s supporters as a double-diss, since she wasn’t picked for veep. While Richardson’s formidable diplomatic experience may give him an edge, Clinton is clearly one of the most capable leaders in the Democratic Party, and her experience as an actively-involved First Lady for 8 years who traveled the world on diplomatic missions merits consideration.
In picking Richardson, it’s possible Obama could offset criticism from feminists by making sure the “more than 300 cabinet secretaries, deputies and assistant secretaries and more than 2,500 political appointees” cited in Weisman’s article includes a record number of women. Conversely, making sure Latinos get a record number of those appointments might offset negative buzz in the Latino community if he picks Clinton for State. Either way there will be much grumbling in the short run.
WaPo‘s Chris Cillizza weighs the pros and cons of chosing Clinton:

Making Clinton the Secretary of State would ensure buy-in from the former first couple…While the chances of Clinton free-lancing are far less if she is a member of the Obama cabinet, there is absolutely no way of ensuring that her own views on matters of foreign policy would be subsumed in favor of those of the administration…it would be impossible to put the toothpaste back into the tube.

Cillizza may be overstating the likelihood of Clinton being a rogue Secretary of State, and Obama and Clinton do share many foreign policy positions in common. However, Cillizza doesn’t weigh the negative impact that passing over Richardson would have with many Latinos.
Of course, Obama could dodge the dilemma by selecting Senator Kerry for State. In that event, he could tick off both many Hispanics and Clinton supporters. Anyway you slice and dice, it is a very tough choice. The upside is that the country would be well-served with any of these three.

5 comments on “Obama’s Tough Choice: Clinton or Richardson for State

  1. ducdebrabant on

    It’s a sad commentary on Democratic unity when Republicans respond more graciously to the possibility of a Hillary appointment than the unrepentant Clinton haters among the Democrats. The fact that the Obama campaign is tight-lipped when it suits them doesn’t mean they can’t be loose-lipped when it suits them, and this could well be one of those time (I supposed the Clinton camp leaked Richardson’s name too, and Rahm Emmanuel’s?). I can’t say I’m totally surprised that some Democrats are still horrified at a Hillary appointment, but I have to be a bit rueful when they act as though global warming were the occasion of a sinecure to sideline a potentially troublesome rival. By now, surely we all take climate change too seriously to park people we despise in charge of it.

  2. sagacious on

    I do not think that the Obama team ‘leaked’ HRC’s name. This situation seems to be Classic Clinton drama vs. no drama Obama. You would think that HRC would have learned by now that they are not master strategists when it comes to Obama.
    This sounds like classic WJC tactic to squeeze Bill Richardson in payback for his endorsing Obama during the primaries.
    Why anyone thinks it is to the Obama camp to leak anything about HRC continues to boggle my imagination.
    I hope HRC is passed over and that Richardson gets the post, despite his womanizing issues. WJC does not need a platform on the world stage to dispatch his spouse to handle his global affairs. It is very feasible that HRC will ‘decline’ due to the conflicts of interest WJC’s foreign country deals pose…and not to mention his library donors all of which would need to be a part of the 63 questions Obama requires for top cabinet posts.
    SlickWillandHill have met their match in Obama he will not be bullied nor politically squeezed to their advantage.
    Give Hill a policy wonk position like GlobalWarming Czar if she wants out of the Senate because there is no place for her to go there.

  3. J.P.Green on

    Point taken, sporcupine. I should have written “Cinton supporters” instead of “women” in the last graph. I’ll make the change. And to be consistent, I’ll also add “many” before Latinos.

  4. ducdebrabant on

    It would have been better never to consider Hillary at all than leak she’s a top contender for State, that she’s met with Obama, and then pass her over for Richardson. Bill Richardson owes much of his foreign policy resume to the patronage of her husband, yet betrayed Hillary in the primaries. It would appear to be a calculated humiliation by Obama. Do the Clintons deserve this? I was surprised to hear that she was under consideration, but now that we know it’s been discussed, to suddenly read a new leak that her main rival is Richardson is weird. Is it too late for Richard Holbrooke? If Obama offers Hillary a chair, pulls it out from under her, and offers it to the Governor, it will be hard to blame her for getting in his way in the future.

  5. sporcupine on

    I respectfully submit that most American women want the President-elect to choose the Secretary of State who can best serve the nation’s diplomatic goals. If Senator Clinton is that person, we’ll be delighted. If she is not that person, and she gets the job to placate some noisy activists, we’ll be disturbed.
    There’s no easy way to stop feminist leaders from claiming that they speak for “women” in general.
    I, however, want third parties to quit playing the game.
    J.P. Green, do you really believe that most American women care more about gender representation than effective negotiation on Chinese trade, North Korean arms, and a lasting peace in the Middle East?
    No, you don’t believe that.
    Accordingly, please don’t write things you don’t believe. The people who are pushing for female representation are feminists, the women’s movement, advocates for gender equality. They are voices worth hearing, but they are not the voice of American women in general.
    You know that, and I urge you to write in a way that matches what you know.


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