Is Hillary Nomination Offer A Red Herring?

[ Posted Wednesday, November 19th, 2008 – 14:39 UTC ]

The term "red herring" has been around for hundreds of years. It specifically refers to taking a smoked (and therefore pungent) herring and dragging it across the trail of a fugitive, in order to throw off the scent of any tracking dogs in pursuit. The term's use has evolved (with the help of mystery writers everywhere) to now mean any intentional misdirection used to draw attention from other events or motives. And while I could be proven wildly mistaken, I think the whole "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton" circus will prove to be nothing more than a gigantic red herring. Something smells fishy about it, to stretch the metaphor a bit.

Basing my reasoning on absolutely no hard facts (which I fully admit up front), here's the scenario that keeps suggesting itself to my addled brain (and which, to my surprise, doesn't seem to have suggested itself to anyone else): during the discussions between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (which took place between the end of the primary season and when she began campaigning for him), Hillary gets Barack to agree to this sideshow if he gets elected. She will be "offered" Secretary of State, which she will then decline "because there's so much to do in the Senate." But -- and here's the crux of my thinking -- she will gain by this situation by improving her prestige in the Senate and attaining more power than she normally would have (due to her low seniority status).

The first thing which made me suspicious about the whole story was the fact that it was such a big story. The day it broke in the media, some were saying she "had been offered" the position, some hedged their bets by saying things like "Clinton may have already been offered the job," and some reported (with more restraint) "Clinton is being considered for the job, but no decisions have been made, and no offer has been extended." Since then, the stories have been all over the map. In great detail. From the mainstream media to the nether regions of the blogosphere the story fascinates one and all. Intricacies of vetting are endlessly discussed, what Hillary Clinton is thinking is gone into in depth, and the eternal "what do we do about Bill?" questions are breathlessly asked.

Now, some of this is the press' continued fascination with all things Clinton, and Hillary is certainly newsworthy after her historic run for the Democratic nomination this year. But even so, you've got to ask yourself -- why is this the only story that has leaked in this fashion from the transition team? Obama has run an astoundingly leak-free campaign (and transition) from the beginning, and now they're leaking all over the place on a possible Clinton appointment? Some may chalk this up to the fact that Hillary's campaign was a heck of a lot leakier during the campaign, meaning the leaks in this story may be coming more from her direction than Obama's. But Obama's team hasn't done anything to quash any of these rumors, it should also be noted. Meaning they're OK with the leaks. But being OK with the leaks isn't the same thing as confirming that Hillary Clinton is their first choice, or that they've offered her the job.

The other interesting thing is that during the same time period that the Secretary of State rumors have been swirling, the Democrats met in Washington to select their new leadership positions for the upcoming year in Congress. Now, there is a time-honored procedure in the Senate of doling out plum committee assignments based upon seniority -- the length of time a senator has served. But Clinton is 35th in line for such assignments, which is pretty far back. Now, there are plenty of other Democratic senators who have more seniority but who also didn't just run for president. Hillary is reportedly frustrated that she is simultaneously seen as a "party leader" and yet also so far back in the seniority line. She may be looking to leverage her Secretary of State "offer" into a better place in this line. And, tellingly, Harry Reid seems to be on board with this effort.

I have to pause and explicitly state that nothing I've written here means in any way that I don't think Hillary Clinton would do a good job as Secretary of State. I think she could be a great Secretary of State, and I think she also has the potential to be a disastrous Secretary of State. I can honestly see it going either way. If I am completely wrong about the red herring scenario, and Obama does in fact announce she will be his Secretary of State, I will support her efforts to do well in the job (as I would for anyone so named). Past performance and water under the bridge are not the best indicators of how anyone would handle such an important responsibility, so I am fully ready to give any nominee the benefit of the doubt when they enter office.

But I can't help thinking the entire episode is designed to (1) give the media something to work themselves into a frenzy over (giving Obama more time and freedom to flesh out the rest of his cabinet), and (2) boost Hillary Clinton's stature on the national stage, and in the Senate itself.

If I am right, Hillary Clinton will be the one to hold a press conference -- and not Obama -- in the near future. She will say how honored she is to have been considered for the post, but that after reflection she has decided to continue serving the citizens of the great state of New York from her position in the Senate, where she thinks she will be more effective promoting Barack Obama's agenda and helping the new president get important legislation passed, and so is therefore asking Obama to remove her name for consideration.

This move will bolster her stature and reputation among her many fans and supporters. It will show that she is the one turning the offer down, leaving her supporters feeling good about (1) the fact that she was "offered" the job, (2) the fact that Hillary's power just seems to continue to grow, and (3) Barack Obama, for being gracious enough to allow her to make the choice about her own political future. It will almost completely remove any leftover sour grapes about the nomination race (and about the fact that Hillary was not offered the vice presidency before the convention as well).

It will succeed in improving Hillary's standing in the Senate, and it will also (with hindsight) have allowed Barack Obama to conduct the real vetting process for whoever ultimately gets the position -- without the blinding glare of the media's spotlight.

Meaning a win-win situation all around. Because while being offered Secretary of State is a great feather to have in your cap politically, the job would be somewhat of a dead-end for Clinton, should she accept it. She would serve for one term, then likely be replaced by someone in a second-term Obama administration, leaving her out in the cold after 2012. Unless Obama proves to be a disaster as president, Clinton would not challenge him for the presidency in 2012, and would have a hard time running for the Senate seat she abandoned in New York. Her political career would be in serious danger of being over at that point -- which, again, smells kind of fishy to me.

Which is why this whole Hillary media frenzy seems to me to be nothing more than a gigantic red herring. While the dogs of the media have dutifully gone haring after this story (baying loudly all the while), methinks there's another game afoot.


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


16 Comments on “Is Hillary Nomination Offer A Red Herring?”

  1. [1] 
    fstanley wrote:

    I do think that the "offer" to Hilary may be part of some deal she has with P-E Obama since it does seem like a big risk for her to take. However, I did see on line somewhere ( CNN - I think) that Bill had agreed to some kind of vetting so who really knows what is going on.


  2. [2] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    For election junkies --

    Al Franken's recount has started. Check it out here -- because of ballot challenges, both candidates are losing votes, and Franken is currently only 181 votes behind (down from 215). But this process is going to take days and days, so check back to it often.


  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Now, that’s what I would call a ‘thick and juicy’ analysis - you know, something to really sink your teeth into. Believe me, I’ve read more than a few essays attempting to read the tea leaves but your take on this provides a very well reasoned and unique perspective - lack of hard facts, notwithstanding.

    I would say that your scenario and premise could be reasonably based simply upon the conduct of Hillary Clinton throughout this entire presidential primary, election, and transition process - not to mention the behavior of her husband. In other words, your scenario seems perfectly logical to me and is a powerful argument against her nomination as Secretary of State.

    My own thinking on this has - how shall I say - ‘evolved’. Well, what I really mean is that my favourite NYTimes columnist, Tom Friedman, has recently reminded me about what is most important here. The important question to be considered, he suggests, is not whether Hillary Clinton is qualified for the position but rather what kind of relationship she would have with President Obama. And, her effectiveness as Secretary of State would be dependent upon how her relationship with the president is perceived by the world leaders with whom she will interact.

    If these world leaders view her relationship with the president as genuine and one that is based on trust, then they will believe that she is a true representative of the president and know that when they speak with her they are, in essence, communicating with the President. Hillary Clinton could be a very effective diplomat if this kind of relationship with Barack Obama actually exists.

    But, there’s the rub. I don’t believe for a second that the relationship between Senator Clinton and President-elect Obama is one that is either genuine or based on trust. And, I would bet that many world leaders may believe that, too - or become convinced of it over time. Because, a relationship like this that operates at such a high level is not the kind of thing that can be successfully portrayed as something that it is not.

    By the way, I don’t suppose you would know of anything in the constitution - or otherwise - that would preclude the VP-elect from also being nominated as the next Secretary of State, would you? After all, there is no one more qualified for the job and his relationship with the President-elect is nothing if not genuine and based on trust and respect.

  4. [4] 
    BLaws wrote:

    Even bigger wrinkle in your theory....

    Apparently the Constitution! may prohibit Hillary from taking the SoState position or any other cabinet post. It would also block a few other Senators.

    "No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time; and no Person holding any Office under the United States, shall be a Member of either House during his Continuance in Office."

  5. [5] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    I gotta tell ya...that was about as clear as mud.

  6. [6] 
    kevinem2 wrote:

    Dammit Chris, every once and a while you write something that makes me think "Obama, please put Chris into your cabinet simply because he's my kind of thoughtful people"....:)

  7. [7] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Elizabeth -

    BLaws is talking about a possible problem that I haven't yet researched -- Hillary voted to increase the pay of cabinet members this term. Which means, by the letter of the law (the Constitution), she is ineligible to take a cabinet position until her current Senate term is up (in 2012, I believe). But there may be a loophole... which, as I said, I haven't researched yet...

    kevinem2 -

    I'd never get past vetting. But I'd love to be Secretary Of Telling Everyone What To Do, I have to admit in all honesty. Or maybe Secretary Of I'm Surprised I Have To Explain This Stuff. Heh. heh heh.



  8. [8] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Update -

    Here's a link to what BLaws is talking about.


  9. [9] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    Elizabeth -

    Speaking of links, how about a link to that Friedman article? Inquiring minds want to know...



  10. [10] 
    Michale wrote:


    Update -

    Here's a link to what BLaws is talking about.



    Over 12 THOUSAND comments on that piece.. That has GOT to be some kind of record.

    I was kind of bummed, though that they didn't cover the constitutional conflict much other than mentioning that it exists.

    It will be interesting to hear the argument from that... Considering the high regard the US Constitution is held in other matters...


  11. [11] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:


    Here is the link to 'Madame Secretary', by TF...

    And, as for the 'increased emoluments'...just please tell me that Biden didn't vote for it, too...okay!? Geesh.

    Because, you know, that's not exactly the kind of constitutional prohibition that would preclude the VP-elect from also being SoS I've been worried about. Let me know if you come across anything else that might prevent such an outcome!

  12. [12] 
    Osborne Ink wrote:

    Chris, I think you're on to something. Something about the SoS offer to Hillary didn't seem right, and now I know what that was: she didn't accept immediately! The woman is not the type to "think about it" when given an opportunity like this. It's completely out of character.

  13. [13] 
    John Lumea wrote:

    Two more things that support your "red herring" theory:


    On Tuesday -- several days into the media speculation about Hillary as SoS -- Ted Kennedy announced that he had tapped Hillary to lead a Senate working group on health care.

    According to Kennedy's statement:

    Sen. Clinton [has] generously offered to step forward and assume an expanded role on critical aspects of health reform.

    If Kennedy -- who, one assumes, is in regular contact with Obama -- believed that SoS Hillary was serious, is there any reason why he would do this now?

    At the very least, Kennedy knows that Obama is likely to name his SoS pick within a week or two. Is there any reason why Kennedy couldn't just wait two weeks to make his own announcement?

    Story here.


    If you're Barack Obama, and you know that -- according to plan -- Hillary is about to politely decline your "offer"...

    If you also know what media-connected Gender-Equity-in-the-Administration Scorekeepers know -- that (a) you've thus far tapped only men for Cabinet and White House staff positions, and that (b) Hillary's announcement will seal State for a man, too...

    Finally: If you know that, absent any other top-level gender equity cues from you, Hillary's announcement would be the Scorekeeper's cue to ramp up the pressure...

    What better way to inoculate yourself than to preface Hillary's announcement with your own "announcement" that you want to put Janet Napolitano at Homeland Security and Penny Pritzker at Commerce?

    Story here -- although it appears that Pritzker, for business reasons, might already be taking herself out of consideration.

  14. [14] 
    BLaws wrote:

    The more I think about it the more I'm convinced it went like this:

    Hillary was considered as one of many. She wasn't given any priority. She came to visit Obama just as Richardson and others did.

    But that wasn't good enough for Hillary. I'm betting they intentionally leaked the meeting, and saying that "Obama offered it if she wants it" trying to box him in so he has to offer it. All this drama and the leaks just make it seem more like her and her cronies are trying to force him to pick her, by making it a PR nightmare if he doesn't.

    I'm really hoping he uses this Constitutional conflict as a get out of jail free card.

  15. [15] 
    BLaws wrote:

    Another reason I think this is Ted Kennedy offering her a point position on health care after this went down. Seems to me he's trying to get her not to take it so that he can bail out Obama. If Obama really wanted her as bad as they are trying to say, Kennedy wouldn't have even offered this to her.

  16. [16] 
    Chris Weigant wrote:

    To everyone -

    See today's post for a discussion on Hillary Clinton's eligibility to even take the job. Complete with "the Saxbe fix" explained and everything...


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