Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Once upon a time I was undecided about who I’d support for president between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Then Hillary went negative, suggesting that only she and McCain were qualified to be Commander-in-Chief, and Obama revealed himself to be a steady sober statesman with ideas I believed in. I wrote some damning columns about how Hillary conducted her campaign, once writing about the “stench” of her campaign. While not engaged in throwing brickbats at her, I did take the time to write a more analytic column based on the psychology of grief as applied to Hillary’s dealing with losing the nomination.

With her poised to be Secretary of State Clinton I think revisiting that column is appropriate.

For Hillary Clinton the ultimate psychological challenge: fast tracking the five stages of grief

June, 7, 2008

The Democratic Party doesn’t have the luxury of affording Hillary Clinton the time she needs to fully resolve the loss of her dream to be president because this was a primary, not a general election where she would have months or years to lick her wounds. The party needs her now at her best to assure a victory for McCain whether she runs for vice president or uses all the power of persuasion she can bring to bear to keep her 18 million supporters from defecting to McCain.

We saw Hillary going through the first stage of grief, denial, for the weeks where the math just didn’t add up in her favor. She clung to her denial tenaciously even until Tuesday night when Obama went over the top.

Being introduced by Terry McCauliffe as the next president and her enthusiastic cheering supporters shouting "Denver, Denver, Denver" didn’t help her confront the truth of her loss.

Here’s an example of how her denial was fueled from the Sunday New York Times:

Mrs. Clinton recognized the odds. But she was being encouraged by emotional supporters along the rope lines and came to believe she had an obligation to stay in, aides said. At every stop, someone would say, “Don’t you quit!” — and aides said she internalized the message. “The psychology of it all is very complicated,” one said. “I’m sure you don’t want to slow down because once you do, you start to think about

Advisers shied from suggesting she quit. “You’re a persona non grata if you bring up getting out,” another aide said. LINK

The next stage of grief is anger. This could be discerned by her reluctance to concede defeat and not mentioning that Obama won and agreed to concede until the New York delegation forced her to do so. One could also make the case that being 45 minutes late to give her concession speech endorsing Obama was a manifestation of grief related anger.

So far we have the first two stages of grief which ideally should resolve themselves without others interfering. I always tell my clients that there are no time tables for working through the stages of grief, but there are impasses possible at each level which can be resolved, often with counseling.

From a psychological standpoint, I don’t think any of Hillary’s stages of grief have been resolved. She’s probably working on denial and to a lesser extent anger, but she has been forced by circumstances to move to the next stage of grief which is bargaining. This seems to have begun by making a tentative effort to achieve peace with Barack Obama. It isn’t clear what she is bargaining for unless she is trying to be asked to run as the vice presidential candidate.

In the famous Kübler-Ross model, bargaining seems to involve a higher power. Cynics and smart-ass columnists like myself have suggested that Hillary has been trying this so Obama would disappear from the scene.

Frankly, no matter what obnoxious thoughts may cross my mind about bargaining with Lucifer, I really don’t see Hillary as religious or superstitious. Her bargaining may be the real nitty gritty face-to-face bargaining with someone who actually is a higher power. That hopefully began last night.

It can’t be easy for her. I suspect she’d rather be bargaining with the Devil than a flesh and blood man some 15 years her junior who now has what must be unfathomable andi infuriating power over her.

The fourth stage of grieving is depression, and for this the "cure" is quite special for her. With most people it involves making a concerted effort, sometimes with the help of a loved one or counselor, to be able to think about what you lost realistically, confronting both the good and the bad. It means appreciating what you still have and what you still can do in the future.

Hillary should do this, it is what is effective in conquering grief depression with everyone.

But she can do something few have the good fortune to be able to do during a time of grief. This is to immerse yourself in a cause greater then yourself.

For her own mental health, and the overall health of the nation, she needs to devote herself to helping Obama get elected. What greater cause is there? If she succeeds she can maintain her mantle as the woman with the most power and force for positive change in the world.

She needs to remind herself that if she devotes her full talent and energy to it, in the next administration she could do it so well that she will go down in history as the most accomplished female American politician ever, if not one of the most accomplished politicians period.

Back to the present.

Simply put, from a psychological perspective I think that Hillary has worked through and resolved most of her grief and moved through and beyond the final stage of acceptance.

She’d be an excellent member of the top Obama team and ready to be the “good partner” she has said she wants to be to President Obama.

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  1. Flapsaddle

    I believe that I am the scofflaw to whom Mr. Brown was referring.

    Apparently, my suggestion that Clinton should remain in the Senate and rot along with Teddy-boy Kennedy was somehow out of bounds.

    Anyway, I rephrased and have apparently passed muster.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  2. Pablo

    The ulitmate in dealing with grief for hillary would be the secretary of state position. Having the opportunity to push our country toward nuclear annhilation of Iran would be very therapeutic for her. She no doubt remembers the good feelings she received when she unrepentently approved the slaughter of the Iraqi people (similar feelings to those bill no doubt received when he denied basic necessities to Iraqi children for many years), so rewarding her with opportunities to destroy the lives of thousands more foreigners would be good therapy for her.

    And we certainly wouldn’t want this woman who cares so deeply for us to suffer, would we?

  3. Hal Brown

    Cynicism and outrage towards Hillary Clinton is understandable.

    But even if one believed she has her own nefarious and utterly insane agenda regarding murdering 70 million Iranians and starting a catastrophic Mid-east war, she will be working for Obama.

    Remember, the Senate vote authorizing the Iraq War was passed 77 to 23. Obama wasn’t in the Senate but would have voted nay.

    The 23 senators
    (including one
    Republican and one
    indepedent) who voted
    against the war
    resolution were:

    Akaka (D-HI)
    Bingaman (D-NM)
    Boxer (D-CA)
    Byrd (D-WV)
    Chafee (R-RI)
    Conrad (D-ND)
    Corzine (D-NJ)
    Dayton (D-MN)
    Durbin (D-IL)
    Feingold (D-WI)
    Graham (D-FL)
    Inouye (D-HI)
    Jeffords (I-VT)
    Kennedy (D-MA)
    Leahy (D-VT)
    Levin (D-MI)
    Mikulski (D-MD)
    Murray (D-WA)
    Reed (D-RI)
    Sarbanes (D-MD)
    Stabenow (D-MI)
    Wellstone (D-MN)
    Wyden (D-OR)

    The Democrats who voted yea were:

    Baucus (D-MT)
    Bayh (D-IN)
    Biden (D-DE)
    Breaux (D-LA)
    Cantwell (D-WA)
    Carnahan (D-MO)
    Carper (D-DE)
    Cleland (D-GA)
    Clinton (D-NY)
    Daschle (D-SD)
    Dodd (D-CT)
    Dorgan (D-ND)
    Edwards (D-NC)
    Feinstein (D-CA)
    Harkin (D-IA)
    Hollings (D-SC)
    Johnson (D-SD)
    Kerry (D-MA)
    Kohl (D-WI)
    Landrieu (D-LA)
    Lieberman (D-CT)
    Lincoln (D-AR)
    Miller (D-GA)
    Nelson (D-FL)
    Nelson (D-NE)
    Reid (D-NV)
    Rockefeller (D-WV)
    Schumer (D-NY)
    Torricelli (D-NJ)

  4. Flapsaddle

    Clinton’s ego might be a problem.

    She is not a team player – unless she is in charge of the team. The SecState job, like any Cabinet position, is one where you carry out the policy of others, not make it up yourself.

    Just as Obama was smart not to put her in the VP slot, he’d be equally smart not to put her in a position where she would tend to think that she was the maker of the official policy and not the president.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  5. JudyB

    Hillary is quite capable and up to the task of serving as Sec. of State.
    As for the Iraq war…everybody was lied to and I long ago decided NOT to hold it against anyone who voted for it based on the lies they were told.
    Bill in the senate??? It aint never gunna happen, but I would welcome it…and you can’t say he dosen’t know the ropes and hasn’t had experience.

  6. Hal Brown

    There have been some very strong minded secretaries of state with oversized egos. Of course there’s Henry Kissinger but looking back in history consider that John Quincy Adams, William Seward, George C. Marshall, Dean Acheson, Thomas Jefferson and Daniel Webster all served in this position.

  7. Hal Brown

    Politics was a soap opera during the Monika Lewinski episode. For the last eight years reality and fiction seemed to blur even more although I’d say more horror fiction than soap. Since Sarah Palin came on the national scene and was taken seriously by so many people, it seems that a portion of the public have slipped through the rabbit hole entirely into a fantasy that makes Wonderland look sane.

    So why not President Senator Bill Clinton?

    Really though, while it would give him a “real job” again as the most famous first term senator since Andrew Jackson, I agree that “it aint never gunna happen”.

    But as I pointed out, it’s legal.

    P.S. I just want to share a cartoon I thought was both funny and an great caricature of Bill.

  8. adamrussell

    After sleeping on it, the latest news is sounding more like a maneuver on Hillary’s part to “accept” the offer before the offer has even been made. Obama, dont bow to politics. Choose the best candidate, not the one that will mend fences.

  9. Malibu

    I agree Flapsaddle. Christopher Hitchens was on Hardball last night and went through many of the Clinton’s actions when Slick was President. From their first day in the White House, Hillary took charge of the travelgate and then jumped into a failed Health Care system.

    I remember those days of the Clinton White House and the deals they made with foreign nations for money never mentioned in the news. Hitchens advises that we all check the Senate Investigations on both Clintons and see if this is what we want as Secretary(s) of State. I would be against it.

    We don’t know the power or soul of either Clinton and I would rather have someone more transparent. They think nothing of lying about their dealings with Indonesia and China. They were money deals not foreign policy.

    Senator Clinton could do great harm to President Elect Obama.


  10. Flapsaddle

    Hillary Clinton is not in their league. To compare her to Adams, Jefferson, Marshall or Kissinger is an insult to them; she couldn’t wipe the ashtrays for those gentlemen.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  11. Hal Brown

    I think international image and perception is vitally important considering what eight years of Bush did to relationships with our allies and adversaries alike.

    Hillary can rehabilitate this, but not because she’s on a par with a Richard Holbrooke as a diplomate. There are only three Americans that have international “star power” and she’s one of them. I believe this counts for a great deal.

    Mending fences at home within the Democratic party would be a side benefit of choosing Clinton but I don’t think it ranks high on Obama’s list of criteria.

    I think she’d be highly motivated to disprove the predictions of her critics. This would mean advancing the Obama agenda.

    Everything Christopher Hitchen’s said here is true about her but in my opionion his reasons don’t add up to precluding her from the job.

    She would literally be at the table (in the Cabinet room and the Oval Office) in working directly with Obama and other top advisors in formulating policy. As long as she believed her arguments were taken seriously, I think she would follow Obama’s directive even when she disagreed.

    I think she wants to be more a part of history than she’s already been. The 18 million voters breaking the glass ceiling mime will be a footnote to history. If she is a highly effective Secretary of State she will have a whole chapter in the book of Obama, and possibly a book of her own if she follows in the footsteps of one of our great Secretaries of State.

    Remember George C. Marshall gave his name to the Marshall Plan and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.

  12. Flapsaddle

    Clinton should remain in the Senate, where she will not present a conflict-of-interest with the new administration.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  13. DonKrieger

    Because Obama has met with Bill Richardson and Hillary Clinton, they both must be included in the list of those under very serious consideration for the cabinet.

    Homeland Security is a far bigger job with a much bigger budget than State, and, in my opinion, is far more important.

    Homeland Security screams for its FIRST competent boss to make it effective.

    Hillary could use her “I have a plan” competence and her foreign policy chops to deal with the multi-tentacled imperatives of this job. But because the primarily North American foreign policy implications are far more limited than State, the potential for conflict of interest problems is greatly reduced.

    Bill Richardson is an obvious choice for this, but may be better suited to State due to his non-combative demeanor.


    Don Krieger
    Pittsburgh, PA
    Everything is free and permanent.

  14. Flapsaddle

    The Marshall Plan was the product of the most profound strategic genius that this country has produced.

    It would have been the Truman Plan, except that Truman was too unpopular and there was a chance it might never have gotten through Congress with his name on it.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  15. Hal Brown

    Some of you may have missed the addition to the rules and guidelines I added a month ago, so I am reposting it:

    New Oct. 18, 2008: Those used to posting off-hand comments on other forums will discover that they may have become the victim of the fact that since I’ve instituted these news rules and guideline the comments section of my columns has begun to draw many more repeat readers to the columns than before. Most of the comments are well thought out and well written. They add to the original post with new perspective and challenging ideas. This has led me to be even stricter in removing posts that aren’t up to the standards being set by the majority of posters.

  16. Malibu

    Mr. Brown. Please be more explicit so we know if we have broken your standards.

    Malcolm the innocent, I hope

  17. Hal Brown

    If your post has disappeared it means your post didn’t pass muster.

    I’m usually not going to explain why I delete unless someone sends me their email address.

    Some people write brief comments which are relevant and when a regular poster does this I have no objection. But if an infrequent poster comes in with a kind of hit and run marginally relevant comment I may very well delete it.

    Friendly posts between regulars are still welcome even if they are not on the topic of the column. We have evolved into a damn good posting community where we all have become familiar with 90% of the posters on all the columns and blogs. You can’t say that about Huffington Post, where by the way, of about 100 comments I’ve put on I’ve had about 20 never appear.

  18. raedawn

    Wow! Hal, I was poised to write a scathing reply until I got to the end and saw that you have proclaimed that Hillery has moved through the stages of grief. It bothers me a bit to see this issue even being brought up. I don’t recall it ever being brought up in regards to a male in high public office, regardless of the loss or the mistake or gaff.

    I had the wonderful chance to meet Elizabeth Kubler Ross and talk with her at some length. Besides saying that the “stages” could happen in different order for different people, she also acknowledged that any perceived loss might be accompanied by these 5 stages.

    Hillary has shown her mettle in many ways, and has shown that her ability to function in any capacity or office is not affected by her personal life. So I will just toss in one more “I haven’t ever seen this applied to males in high or even low public office.”
    Best ~ Linda in Lowell (MA)

  19. Hal Brown

    Linda up north in Lowell: \\

    I need to be convinced that the lack of journalistic attention to other male politicians grieving a loss compared to what has been written about Hillary Clinton and her grief process over losing the nomination has much if anything to do with her gender.

    Her situation is unique because she stayed a major “player” in the election after her defeat in the primary. This didn’t happen with any candidates on the Republican side and I can’t recall any other election in the past where a losing candidate wielded such influence after they lost in a primary.

    She was a formidable candidate against Obama and would have been just as formidable against McCain. I agree with others who have written that Obama can thank her for hardening him for the type of campaign that McCain ran against him. Had I known at the time that Clinton’s negative campaigning was to be a practice run for Obama I might not have been so critical of Clinton.

    I did do a quick web search and only managed to come up with the following:

    “McCain’s 5 Stages of Grief over the Economy”

    Trent Lott’s stages of grief”

    “Coping with the loss; or, John McCain and the five stages of grieving”

    Hal down south in Middleboro (MA)

  20. Malibu

    I hope the two of you are right! I still have doubts about Senator Clinton and believe her list of denials goes back long before her husband was President. In reading many of the books on her history in politics, she does not have the “Country First” priorities that is needed in this position.

    Malcolm, who could be wrong.

  21. ckaye99

    Some people say Obama would have in her that position so he can keep an eye on her and she would be contained to some degree. From what I hear, the State Dept. has a lot of problems now, and I don’t know if she can handle sorting them out. I wish to hell she would have laid low this election and not shown her face until 2012. She blew it for herself and deep in her heart she knows it.

  22. RichardKanePA

    There is the Miltary Industrial Complex and a lot are worried about Isreal being shut out a little. I think a very pushy person who also is a woman can get in the way of peace efforts a little without consciously trying.

    Those addicted to war no how to sabotate things, and push Obama and Hillary along without them really being involved.


  23. Hal Brown

    Maureen Dowd zorroed her snark saber back and forth so much in this OpEd so much she had me wanting to ask her “but Red, tell us how you really feel about Hillary as Secretary of State.” But then she closes with:

    And if she worked hard enough — and she would — she could restore clarity to Foggy Bottom, the striped-pants center of diplomacy so maligned and misused by W. and Dick Cheney on their Sherman’s march to war in Iraq and in their overwrought bid to become the only hyperpower.

    If Barry chooses Hillary as secretary of state, a woman who clearly intimidated him and taught him to be a better pol in the primaries, it doesn’t signal the return of the Clinton era. It says the opposite: If you have a president who’s willing to open up his universe to other smart, strong people, if you have a big dog who shares his food dish, the Bill Clinton era is truly over.

    Appointing a Clinton in the cabinet would be so un-Clintonian.

    Read “Team of Frenemies” by Maureen Dowd

  24. JudyB

    All this talk on grieving, brings to mind that this entire nation has been grieving. The past 8 years under the quasi dictatorship of Bush/Cheney have dealt us all a mighty blow. The stage each of us is at depends on what you feel you have lost, and or/if you have found reason to hope for a future. Republicans are only in the first stages of the grief process, while at the same time, the Obama election has given millions a reason to have renewed hope.
    As for Hillary’s ability to handle the position as Sec. of State? I think she is an intelligent, tough realist she’s been a good senator, a dynamic and important presidential candidate, and add that to her hutzpa, she will do a good good job…if chosen for it. Madaline Albright was very good in that position. Condi on the other hand, has not proven to be much of anything but a mouth piece for Bush/Cheney, and all the knowledge she was supposed to have about Russia has been wasted…almost anyone would be an improvement compared to her.

  25. mtnmopar

    The last time we had a female Secretary of State she was ineffective because one of the major groups she had to deal with, Arab nations, thought as a woman she was a joke. As a result she was not able to preform her duties. Can Hillary do better? Not likely

  26. Hal Brown

    You may be correct that a female Secretary of State would have to overcome cultural stereotpyes and prejudices when dealing with the leaders of Arab nations. However I hardly think they would consider the American Secretary of State a joke.

    I doubt they considered Margaret Thatcher or Golda Meir “jokes”.

    As for Madeline Albright and Condoleeza Rice, there were many more factors than their gender at play when they dealt with Arab leaders.

    If Obama does select Hillary Clinton it will for more reasons than just her ability as a negotiator and statesman. It will immediately send a message across the country and the world that he is serious about the “team of rivals” approach to governing. He will be picking a figure as well known and well liked as he has become.

    If these weren’t considerations he’d pick someone like Richard Holbrooke about whom Newsweek said:

    Holbrooke dominates the field like no one else on the Democratic side. He has a supple mind, understands all the issues, knows the leaders and has a proven record as a diplomat and peacemaker. At Dayton, Holbrooke singlehandedly ended the war in Bosnia by sheer force of personality.

    Holbrooke has some personal defects, too. He is legendary for his ambition and self-promotion. To say he rubs some people the wrong way puts it mildly—he’s a handful. “The Brilliant Brain Trust: Obama should give greater weight to intellectual acumen and subject-specific knowledge than recent predecessors have”

  27. Hal Brown

    They’d best be careful what they wish for. There are a number of prominent Democrats who might replace her, including New York’s Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, the son of former Governor Mario M. Cuomo, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York.

    Also let’s not forget that there’s a very experienced and well known politician named William Jefferson Clinton who is a resident of New York State.

    There is a precedent, “the country’s 17th president, Andrew Johnson.

    Johnson, who was a former representative, governor and senator from Tennessee, was successfully impeached in 1869 for attempting to remove his disloyal Secretary of War without approval from the U.S. Senate.

    He returned to Tennessee and ran for the U.S. Senate again in 1870 and 1872, failing both times. However, in 1874 he became the first and only president to win a Senate seat after serving as President of the United States. He took his seat on March 5, 1875.

    Unfortunately, Johnson suffered a stroke and died four months later.” Infoplease

  28. gazelle1929

    Bill in the Senate. Now that’d be something to listen to the Republicans scream about. I’ll admit that I hadn’t thought about a replacement for Clinton because I hadn’t seriously considered her as being a front runner for the SecState job.