Almost as soon as Hillary Clinton was named as President Obama's choice for his Secretary of State, the rumor mill began to churn and much was made of the "team of rivals" approach (a reference to a book about President Lincoln's cabinet, written by Doris Kearns Goodwin), which many pundits believed described Obama's cabinet selections.
Of all of Obama's cabinet choices, none garnered more attention and commentary from the media and pundit class than his former campaign rival, Hillary Clinton. While this was understandable to an extent, the Beltway crowd seemed to delight in the prospect of being able to cover continued bickering, spotlight-stealing and possible turf wars between the two former rivals. Add to this the fact that many of Clinton's 18 million supporters (of which I was/am, proudly, one) were not entirely pleased with the idea of her becoming Obama's Secretary of State and questioned his motives for selecting her. Let's be honest, when a Clinton is involved, the media tend to assume the worst, even if the facts end up indicating otherwise.
We are a little over seven months into this administration, and there is little indication that media predictions about major policy differences and infighting between President Obama and Secretary Clinton have come to fruition. That said, it has hardly stopped the mainstream media or the blogosphere from creating controversy despite there being little evidence that one exists.
While Secretary Clinton's early approval ratings were among the highest of any in the administration, there began to be whispers that she had been tossed aside by Obama and that she was essentially the victim of a clever plot by the President to render her powerless. This theme seemed to be helped along when, in May of this year, the former Bill Clinton adviser turned professional Clinton-basher, Dick Morris, penned this commentary, entitled "The Incredible Shrinking Clintons," excerpted below:
Meanwhile, both Clintons are effectively muzzled and cannot criticize Obama even as he reverses President Clinton’s free market proclivities and budget balancing discipline. Hillary, the supposed friend of Israel, must sit by quietly and watch Iran get the bomb while trying all the while to stop Israel from preventing it.
Bill can’t even make money. Denied the ability to accept speeches from foreign governments or their organs and fenced out of continuing his profitable relationship with the Emir of Dubai, he and his wife must accept the loss of the $13 million they spent on her campaign and sit by passively, unable to earn the money to replace it.
How long will Hillary subject herself to this discipline? Likely as long as Obama is popular. Should his ratings fade, she might move away from the president and could even consider a primary contest against him in 2012. But while he is on top of his game, she’ll stay loyal.
But she is shrinking by the day…
It didn't seem to matter to some that Dick Morris always has his own agenda when he puts the names Bill or Hillary to paper, nor did it seem to matter that his entire commentary was based on self-serving speculation. How in the world does Dick Morris know that the Clintons "cannot criticize Obama even as he reverses President Clinton’s free market proclivities and budget balancing discipline?" Does he really expect us to believe he has an inside source in the Clinton camp that would give him this sort of first-hand knowledge of the relationship between the Clintons and President Obama? Please.
Interestingly, after Morris' commentary appeared, a whole new crop of "Hillary is invisible and has no power" articles began to appear in the mainstream media and blogosphere. Call me paranoid, but I can't help but think it's not a coincidence that many of these articles seemed to borrow themes from from Dick Morris' general template.
By the time this Politico article, provocatively titled "Hillary Clinton Toils In the Shadows," appeared a little over a week later, the new theme about Hillary's perceived invisibility and powerlessness became almost accepted fact.
But the best was yet to come when in early July, Tina Brown of the Daily Beast, came along and dropped the equivalent of a stink bomb right in the middle of any rational discourse. Her article/commentary was titled "Obama's Other Wife," and began with the controversial attention-grabbing line, "It’s time for Barack Obama to let Hillary Clinton take off her burqa." Brown goes on to offer up her own dumbed-down take on the Secretary of State's role in foreign affairs in the Obama administration:
Consider the president’s Moscow trip a week ago. In a cozy scene at Vladimir Putin’s dacha, the boys enjoyed traditional Russian tea and breakfast on a terrace. Sitting on Putin’s right was the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov. Where was Lavrov’s counterpart? She was back home, left there with a broken elbow to receive a visit from the ousted Honduran president, José Manuel Zelaya.
Even when there’s legitimate credit to be had, she remains invisible. Contrary to administration spin that Joe Biden played a critical role in the decision to send more troops to Afghanistan, the vice president stayed opposed to Obama's strategy. It was Hillary, sources tell me, whom the president relied on throughout the deliberations with principal national-security advisers to support and successfully argue his point of view. The need to paper over the difference between Obama and the vice president meant Hillary’s role went unacknowledged…
Apparently, Ms. Brown thinks handling a coup in Latin America is beneath the Secretary of State, or at the very least, is unglamorous. Never mind that at the time of the Moscow trip, Secretary Clinton had just recently had elbow surgery and wanted to fully recuperate because her upcoming travel itinerary was packed with important trips where the President would not be present (i.e. India, Thailand, Africa). And never mind that Brown's claim that "Hillary's role went unacknowledged" with respect to deliberations over increasing troop levels in Afghanistan, was patently false. As a diehard Hillary supporter, it's hard for me to see how Ms. Brown or anyone else for that matter, can conclude that such demeaning, belittling claims actually help the Secretary of State, not to mention that her analysis is not exactly foreign policy reporting at its finest. But perhaps that wasn't her ultimate goal.
As far as I'm concerned, this sort of commentary perfectly demonstrates how the media just wants a controversy, even if that means they have to create one. One of the things most of these articles have in common is that noticeably absent from them are the stated views of Hillary Clinton herself, who has clearly rebutted the notion that she doesn't control her own foreign policy turf.
Just this week, the rumors of Secretary Clinton's dissatisfaction with her current job and boss surfaced yet again, and actually went viral on the internet. This time, it was all the result of a one sentence blog post written by Michael Goldfarb at the conservative Weekly Standard Online, which stated: "The boss hears from two sources that Hillary Clinton is considering stepping down as Secretary of State this fall in order to run for Governor of New York."
That's it, the sentence that launched a thousand blog posts. And she's stepping down from her post as Secretary of State to run for Governor of New York? Did I miss something? Has she ever said she was interested in that job? Why run for Governor of New York when you can run again for President of the United States? And great sourcing for Goldfarb's blurb, huh? I'm thinking that "the boss" Goldfarb is referring to is likely Weekly Standard managing editor, William Kristol, whose track record with political predictions leaves a lot to be desired. The lack of a source (other than his conservative, anti-Clinton boss) and/or any logic didn't seem to bother the New York Post, either; it printed its own version of the claim, with some added juicy details (more speculation), which took off like a rocket in the blogosphere. In fact, so great was the firestorm that Secretary Clinton's spokesman took the unusual step of addressing the rumor head on, stating very clearly that it was false.
What makes these rumors of rifts between Obama and Clinton so frustrating, is that if one weren’t paying attention, one might be tempted to think that these media pundits are trying to do Hillary a favor by insinuating, albeit insultingly, that President Obama is under utilizing his smart, popular and very well respected Secretary of State; don’t get me wrong, in the very beginning, that thought gave me pause. But then as the articles started piling up, I started to wonder if perhaps some of these writers were just trying to create a controversy to cover while cleverly hiding behind what seemed, at the time, to be concern for Hillary Clinton's best interests. To some extent it's worked, as many of my fellow Hillary supporters did their part to give these stories such wide exposure, apparently in the hopes that they were/are true.
I simply cannot logically conclude that all of this talk of Hillary as unwitting, silenced victim is helping the Secretary of State in any way, shape or form. If anything, it threatens to undermine her by focusing attention away from her foreign policy agenda and message and onto the increasing speculation about whether or not she continues to be a hapless victim of Obama’s huge ego. Now, I'm not saying Obama doesn't have a huge ego, I just think Hillary is not a victim of it, and continuing to claim she is could possibly be undermining her ability to get her diplomatic message out.
Don’t get me wrong, I wish Hillary Clinton were in the Oval Office, but right now at least, she’s not and she’s chosen to be Secretary of State, knowing full well what the job entails and where she fits in the larger scheme of things with respect to President Obama's decision making apparatus. Given that, I don’t see the point in trying to take advantage of old political wounds even though some in the media would clearly prefer to cover an all out tug of war between Secretary Clinton and the Obama team because that was what they predicted (hoped) would happen. But hey, I guess that’s easier to cover than, say, the intricacies of our relationship with India or China or the importance of the behind-the-scenes negotiations with President Zelaya and the de facto government in Honduras.