Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Team of Rivals '08?

As I previously argued, Secretary of Health and Human Services seems like a logical consolation prize for Barack Obama to offer Hillary Clinton:
There is, however, one cabinet position for which Clinton seems both well-qualified and well-suited: Secretary of Health and Human Services. As a member of the Senate's Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions since 2001, she is familiar with many of the issues dealt with by the Department of Health and Human Services. Given her intense and long-standing advocacy on behalf of health care reform and children's issues in particular, this seems an ideal appointment for her. Whether she would prefer it to being a senator, however, is anyone's guess.
It now looks like Obama and his advisers may have come to the same conclusion. According to The Daily Telegraph,

Senior figures in the Obama camp have told Democrat colleagues that the offer to Mrs Clinton of a cabinet post as health secretary or to steer new legislation through the Senate will be a central element of their peace overtures to the New York senator...

Another Democrat who has discussed strategy with friends in the Obama inner circle said that Mr Obama was openly considering asking Mrs Clinton to join his cabinet, alongside two other former presidential rivals: John Edwards, who is seen as a likely attorney general; and Joe Biden, who is a leading contender to become Secretary of State.

To my knowledge, this is the first time anyone associated with the Obama campaign has floated the idea of Secretary Clinton.

Two weeks ago, Obama explained why he might make such an offer. At a town hall in Florida, he was asked if he would consider an unspecified person as a running mate, "even if his or her spouse is an occasional pain in the butt." After laughing and pointing out that the primary campaign wasn't over yet, Obama answered in more detail:
I'm a practical guy. One of my heroes is Abraham Lincoln. A while back, there was a wonderful book written by Doris Kearns Goodwin called "Team of Rivals," in which she talked about how Lincoln basically pulled all the people he'd been running against into his Cabinet. Because whatever personal feelings there were, the issue was, "How can we get the country through this time of crisis?" I think that has to be the approach one takes to the vice president and the Cabinet.
Two weeks before the Florida town hall, Andrew Sullivan, a rabid Clinton-hater, begrudgingly raised the possibility of a "Hate-Filled Dream Ticket" by referencing Goodwin's book and noting that giving Clinton a prominent role in the Obama administration would bolster, not detract, from his message of unity:
His model should be Abraham Lincoln. What Lincoln did, as Doris Kearns Goodwin explained in her brilliant book, "Team of Rivals," was to bring his most bitter opponents into his cabinet in order to maintain national and party unity at a time of crisis. Obama - who is a green legislator from Illinois, just as Lincoln was - could signal to his own supporters in picking Clinton that he isn't capitulating to old politics, he is demonstrating his capacity to reach out and engage and co-opt his rivals and opponents. Done deftly, picking Clinton could even resonate with Obama's supporters as a statesmanlike gesture, a sign of the kind of reconciliation he wants for his own party for the fall. It is consonant with his core message: that he can unfiy the country in a way few other politicians can. It would even help heal the gulf that has opened up between the Clintons and black voters in this campaign. It's win-win all round.
Notably, Lincoln's Team of Rivals was not an effort to bring the entire country together, but rather to mend the rifts within his own party at a time when it was greatly divided - his Cabinet did not include any of his opponents in the general election: John Bell, John Breckenridge, and Stephen Douglas. (Fortunately for him, Lincoln never had to deal with the religion of "High Broderism" and its zealous, misguided calls for bipartisanship.)

Every one of Lincoln's rivals for the Republican presidential nomination, however, was drafted into his Cabinet. Pennsylvania Senator Simon Cameron became Lincoln's Secretary of War, New York Senator William Seward became Lincoln's Secretary of State, Ohio Governor Salmon Chase became Lincoln's Treasury Secretary (and was later nominated by Lincoln to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), and Edward Bates became Lincoln's Attorney General.

A century later, Lyndon Johnson eloquently explained why co-opting your adversaries in this manner made eminent political sense. When asked why he kept J. Edgar Hoover in charge of the FBI, Johnson told the NY Times that "It's probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in."

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