It is said that Barack Obama has read Doris Kearns Goodwin's book, Team of
Rivals, about the war cabinet of Abraham Lincoln. It is said Obama wants to
constitute his cabinet out of former rivals because he liked the book and he
models himself on Lincoln.
Implausible as it sounds, this is the best explanation anyone has given of the
offer of the position of secretary of state to Hillary Clinton. Lincoln took
William Seward at State, and Seward was a rival indeed, but he had fought for
Lincoln with ferocious loyalty and all his eloquence throughout the campaign,
and he put his considerable vote-getting power at Lincoln's disposal. What can
be said for Hillary Clinton? She fought against Obama until the last possible
moment, and on the way exploited, for the purpose of discrediting him, most of
the devices the Republicans would later tap in the general election. She said
Obama had not shown himself fit to be commander-in-chief. She pretended not to
know for sure whether or not he was a Muslim.
Team of Rivals is a pleasant work of popular history, only harmful to the extent
that you weave fantasies around it. Anyone who cares about Obama's fortunes
after his first large public mistake (for even to offer Clinton the position
was a mistake) should close his copy of Goodwin and open the actual words of
Hillary Clinton on Iraq, and the things Barack Obama said about those words.
It may seem an incidental detail but none of the people in Lincoln's cabinet had
a husband who was a former president with a pronounced need to be at the center
of the national stage at all times. Why not repeat the truth? Barack Obama's
election was a real breakthrough, without precedent--something he did by
himself with the help of a million workers who were not working for Hillary
Clinton. When the reading is done and the analogies played out, we should also
admit that no two situations in history are much alike.
The wars President Bush has involved this country in, awful as they are, don't
in any way resemble the Civil War: not in magnitude, not in necessity, and not
in the domestic threats that can be supposed to attend them.
Is Obama's misstep part of a larger pattern? Signs going as far back as July,
and as near as yesterday, from persons "close to Barack Obama" ranging from
Patrick Leahy to Cass Sunstein, have suggested there ought to be no serious
investigation of crimes around domestic surveillance and torture. What of the
hundreds of Bush appointees sown throughout the departments and the agencies?
These people's ideas of right and wrong will come in part from what the new
administration shows itself to care about and what it prefers to disregard.
Indifference in this setting is not magnanimity.
Tuesday the Democrats voted to allow Joe Lieberman to keep his chairmanship
of the Homeland Security Committee. Lieberman did his worst to tear down Barack
Obama in 2008 by questioning his love of his country and his fitness to lead a
secure government. Compare Lieberman and Clinton now with another person who
has been mentioned for secretary of state, Chuck Hagel. Hagel accompanied Obama
on his foreign tour even as Lieberman accompanied McCain. That we are not now at
war with Iran may also be owed in part to a courageous letter that Hagel wrote
to Admiral Fallon last October, on the recklessness of American saber
rattling--this, when Clinton and Lieberman were voting the AIPAC line and
saying, with docility, that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard was a terrorist
organization. They hoped if there was a war it would be over by the election.
Any president needs around him people of courage, judgment, and competence who
share his fundamental views. If Hillary Clinton all along fit that description
for Obama, why did he not tell us so? A party in control must in some respects
resemble any other institution that hopes to maintain itself. Reward those who
sap and undermine, and you likewise discourage those who are loyal. People will
practice the bad arts that they see are profitable. And who that voted in 2008
was looking to have a government of reconciliation without truth?