I haven’t jumped on the Hillary Clinton at Foggy Bottom rumor, mainly because it’s just a rumor. Like all the rumored appointments — Kerry and/or Richardson at State, Gates and/or Hagel and/or Kerry at Defense, Alberto Gonzales back in a triumphat stint at AG — they’re just rumors, and none of them should be taken particulary seriously yet. Did she talk to Obama about it? Possibly. Does that she’s a lock for the job? Of course not. Nobody should be considered a lock for State, any more than they should for President. It’s arguably the third-or-fourth most prestigious position in American government, roughly equal to House Speaker or Senate Majority Leader, ahead of Vice President, behind only the Presidency itself and Chief Justice — and those two positions aren’t open.
That said, Clinton is an intriguing choice for State. Some can argue that her opinion and Obama’s don’t mesh exactly on foreign policy, and that’s true — emphasis on “exactly.” But my sense is that Obama views minor disagreements as a feature, not a bug. Certainly, he doesn’t seem like a guy who would be unwilling to listen to Clinton if she had an idea on foreign policy that was at variance to his — indeed, his lack of rigidity is one of his strengths. More to the point, Clinton’s positions are not nearly as different from Obama’s as the primary made it seem; Clinton is perhaps a bit more hawkish than Obama, but both are basically in the mainstream of Democratic thought. And Clinton has shown every evidence that she can hold her ego in check when dealing with Obama; like all politicians, Clinton has an ego, but she also has the sense of when to hold it in check.
Clinton would obviously be an instantly recognizable and powerful figure in the position of top diplomat. Her husband is well-known throughout the world, obviously, and Clinton has been almost as well-traveled herself. Additionally, there’d be no question whether Clinton could command respect the way there could be with, say, Bill Richardson. Clinton is probably the second-most-respected politician in America right now, behind only the President-Elect. And she’d be an ideal person to begin the hard work of righting America’s standing in the world.
The main question is whether Clinton would want to take the position, one that would have her serving at the pleasure of President Obama. Clearly, Clinton can hold her seat in the Senate in perpetuity, and she’s likely to keep moving up in the Democratic caucus, perhaps to the Majority Leader position someday. If Obama falters, and loses in 2012 — and we’re a long way from 2012, and a lot could happen — Clinton could potentially run for the presidency again in 2016. She would only be 69, which, while on the older side for a presidential candidate, is certainly not out of the ballpark. Indeed, Clinton could be the odds-on favorite for the Democratic nomination in 2016 even if Obama has two successful terms; Joe Biden is turning 66 next week, and would be 74 in 2017, almost certainly too old to seek his first term in office, especially compared to Clinton.
Clinton could bide her time in the Senate, serving as a point person on health care reform and a vocal member of Congress, using her clout to position herself for a run in eight years; certainly, she’d be able to be more vocal than she could be in the State Department. That said, Clinton could potentially serve four years at State and take a couple years to gear up for her final run for the presidency — and if Obama’s been successful, she could be the most-like-a-vice-president candidate in 2016, assuming Biden doesn’t run.
Essentially, for Clinton, being offered State is a win/win; either she takes it, and positions herself as an heir apparent, or she rejects it, and positions herself as one of the key figures in the Senate. Frankly, if I was Obama, I’d offer her State (or possibly its equally powerful mirror image, Defense); it won’t be Health and Human Services or the Vice Presidency, positions that are arguably beneath her talents. Instead, it would be a position that would suit her strengths, and keep her close in the coming years. If nothing else, allowing Clinton to reject the position would leave her a closer ally than not offering it, and would make one of the leading lights of Congress shine more favorably on the Obama administration.