Two questions about the possibility of Hillary Clinton becoming secretary of State: Why would Barack Obama offer her the job and why would she take it?
Just floating her name showed one of the drawbacks. As always with the Clintons the story quickly became about them. Her supporters fretted whether she was being treated with the proper deference. And would Bill Clinton disclose the donors to his library and accept limits on his overseas activities? He answered that question this week — "I’ll do whatever they want" — and in doing so put the President-elect in a box. What more could he possibly ask?
Hillary Clinton’s career has been — and this is in no way a criticism — devoted to advancing her and her husband’s political interests. She played the good soldier during the campaign but came to that role late and rather grudgingly.
She would come into the Cabinet with a formidable political machine independent of Obama and the Democratic National Committee. And she comes with a star power that rivals his and perhaps an agenda of her own.
Clinton is already a power in the Senate and can be the senator from New York as long as she wants the job. She is on the verge of lion status in the Senate, perhaps filling the role of the ailing liberal lion Sen. Ted Kennedy. And one day she might become Senate Majority Leader, an extraordinarily powerful and visible post in Washington, certainly more so than secretary of State.
The secretary of State is no longer the sole vicar of U.S. foreign policy and hasn’t been for decades. Her job will be complicated by competing power centers on foreign policy, Vice President Biden, whose specialty it is; the National Security Adviser, who, being based in the White House, has the advantage of proximity and daily access; and, increasingly, the pro consuls of the Pentagon in the overseas commands.
Accepting the job of secretary of State would likely mean Hillary Clinton giving up on another presidential bid. The job takes you out of electoral politics and, for long periods, out of the country and out of sight. The last secretary of State to become president was James Buchanan in 1857, not a good omen.
It’s hard to see what’s in it for either her or Obama.