The Hillary-Obama Drama: An Offer He'll Never Make, and She Would Never Accept?
• Prediction: she will stay in the Senate as a Dem top dog
• An Obama push for Hillary as Majority Leader?
GET POLITICAL w/ VIC LIVINGSTON
The economy's going deeper into the tank. Thousands of Americans face the possibility of losing their jobs just as the holiday season begins. President-elect Obama becomes the target of hate speech and worse in incidents across the Old South.
And what's the headline story in Washington? Why, it's Hillary, of course, as the pundits once again ponder that old familiar question: "Will she or won't she?"
This time, it's not the vice presidency that's in play; on that one, Obama took a pass on his chief rival for the Democratic nomination in favor of another former critic of his foreign policy bona fides, Joe Biden. While the diva of the Democrats may have been regarded as too polarizing to become Obama's running mate, apparently Obama has no such qualms when in comes to at least considering Hillary for secretary of state.
A polarizer with a reputation for being less than compliant as the nation's top diplomat. Interesting concept, Mr. President-elect. But could it be pushing the "team of rivals" concept a bit too far?
Being "under consideration" isn't the same as being offered the job. The line from the Obama camp at week's end was that Hillary's "on track" to be offered the position, and that an offer, if it comes, wouldn't be made until after Thanksgiving.
Then, to further complicate the intrigue, on Friday afternoon a Clinton aide claimed Hillary finally had decided to "accept" the offer that Obama has yet to officially make. The aide explained away the protracted process by saying Hillary just needed time to make a decision. Then the aide seemed to put a cap on it by declaring that Hillary "would be resigning from the Senate."
The New York Times, along with some other media that apparently forgot who they were dealing with here, issued a news bulletin -- then had to back off when Hillary's office issued a clarification, calling the aide's report "premature."
So the Obama camp's status report -- that Hillary's still "on track" for SecState -- stands. For now. Or at least until the next leak to a malleable media.
"On track." Those are weasel words. Hasn't Hillary's husband, former President Bill Clinton, offered to disclose the donor list for his foundation; to recuse himself from day-to-day operations; and to make any speaking engagements subject to the approval of the Obama White House? Isn't that enough for Obama to make up his mind and proffer the formal offer?
After all, it was his campaign that floated the Hillary-as-SecState trial balloon, something he didn't have to do. He did vanquish her in the primary race, after all, and certainly he could have offered her a consolation prize of lesser value. So what's the holdup?
Well, here's a theory: Could it be that Obama generated the Hillary as SecState talk as a way to enhance her stature and secure her allegiance -- the "team of rivals" model -- all the while privately believing that Bill's financial dealings would leave her no choice but to withdraw her name from consideration?
And could it be that once the idea was floated, the Clintons, being natural-born power players, couldn't resist the chance to call his bluff -- holding him to an offer that has yet to be made, instead of politely declining the overture as Obama may have expected?
At first, the team known as "Billary" made it seem like she'd eagerly accept an Obama SecState offer. But by late Friday, the story had regressed: Hillary still hadn't made up her mind, and was still contemplating an offer by Sen. Ted Kennedy to lead the party's health care efforts in the Senate, where she enjoys an independent power base -- something she wouldn't have as an Obama cabinet secretary.
So which is it? Is Hillary really "on track" for Foggy Bottom, or would she rather retain and enhance her power base on Capitol Hill?
Here at Get Political, we're betting on two things: First, President-elect Obama can't be pleased by the premature reports that seemed to put Hillary on board. Second, we think that in the end, Hillary will remain mistress of her own Senate domain -- rendering moot the question of whether Obama would ever actually offer her the SecState job. The reason? Two words: Bill's finances.
It could be that both sides are looking for a way out of this unnecessary distraction. Obama's core supporters, the progressives who were the driving force in his White House quest, are increasingly troubled by the number of Clintonistas being named to key posts in the new administration -- chief among them Hillary, who loudly proclaimed in the primary campaign that Obama was inexperienced and naive in matters of foreign policy.
Who can forget that scathingly hilarious Saturday Night Live send-up of Hillary's anti-Obama 3 a.m. phone call TV advert? And wasn't it Obama who questioned her judgment in voting for Bush's Iraq war resolution?
Surely Obama realizes that Hillary could prove to be a renegade, one with an ego-driven ex-president as her Svengali. That's why we're thinking he never intended to make an offer, and may still believe there's no way Hillary and Bill would accept it if he did.
Obama does need the Clintons to help him nagivate through shark-infested waters. He needs all the allies he can muster, because it's likely that certain elements of the bureaucracy are not thrilled with the prospect of Obama as president.
But Obama also has pledged to uphold high ethical standards, and to impose strict rules against even the appearance of conflict of interest. Even if Bill cuts back on his foundation work and discloses its donor list, questions could be raised each time he ventures abroad to make a speech -- or each time the foundation takes foreign money.
So how do both sides in this Hillary-Obama drama come out of this tricky countretemps smelling sweet?
Here's one way out that leaves all parties whole, and then some: Democrats on the left and in the center are less than enthralled with Harry Reid's Senate leadership. Why not work with Senate Democrats to find a way to hop-scotch Hillary to the Majority Leader's post? Doesn't Rep. Henry Waxman's ousting of John Dingell as House commerce committee chair set something of a precedent for the higher chamber? Why not go all the way to shatter the seniority system by hoisting Hillary to the top Senate party slot? It certainly would solve two problems at once -- especially if Obama aggressively lobbies for Hillary's case, again bringing the Clintons back into his celestial orbit.
BUT WILL THE ELECTION EVEN MATTER?
Not as long as government-supported extrajudicial "vigilante injustice" targeting squads are "gang stalking" American citizens, making a mockery of the rule of law: