When John Kerry succeeded Hillary Clinton as secretary of state in February, Clinton’s emotional departure from the State Department received blanket media coverage. Kerry’s arrival received next to none.
“So here’s the big question before the country and the world and the State Department after the last eight years,” Kerry said in a speech to State Department employees on his first day on the job. “Can a man actually run the State Department? I don’t know.”
As the crowd roared with laughter, Kerry pushed the joke too far.
“As the saying goes,” he said, “I have big heels to fill.”
Nearly three weeks later, Kerry’s first foreign-policy speech as secretary, an hour-long defense of diplomacy and foreign aid, was a flop. The Washington Post gave it 500 words. The New York Times ignored it. (He was also accused of accidentally inventing a new country called “Kyrzakhstan,” an apparent conflation of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.)
The nearly universal expectation was that Kerry’s tenure would be overshadowed by his predecessor’s, for a long list of reasons. For starters, he was arriving in Foggy Bottom when the country seemed to be withdrawing from the world. Exhausted by two long wars, Americans were wary of ambitious new foreign engagements—certainly of military ones, but of entangling diplomatic ones, too. Barack Obama’s administration, accelerating a process that had begun in the early 1960s under President Kennedy, was centralizing foreign-policy decision making in the White House’s National Security Council, marginalizing the State Department. Kerry hadn’t even been Obama’s first choice for the position, getting nominated only when the candidacy of United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice was derailed by her tenuous association with the Benghazi-consulate tragedy in 2012. (Rice ended up running the National Security Council.) The appetite for risk taking in the White House is never high, but after the Benghazi imbroglio, it was particularly low. Finally, Kerry, a defeated presidential candidate, was devoid of the sexiness that automatically attaches to a figure, like Hillary Clinton, who remains a legitimate presidential prospect. The consensus in Washington was that Kerry was a boring if not irrelevant man stepping into what was becoming a boring, irrelevant job.
Yet his time at the State Department has been anything but boring—and no one can argue his lack of relevance.
Read more. [Image: Sony Tumbelaka/AFP/Getty]
Rand Paul and Chris Christie’s recent verbal tussle has led some to suggest that the men represent opposing poles of a battle for the soul of the Republican Party as they seek to position themselves in advance of the 2016 presidential election. The smart money at the Republican National Committee meeting in Boston last week was that the real 2016 contest isn’t going to be between Paul and Christie, however, but between Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the New Jersey governor, potentially pitting two pugnacious and experienced state executives against each other, with Walker tacking to the right and Christie tacking to the center on social issues.
While Walker is working at staying under-the-radar at this early date (about which: smart move), Paul has made himself a voluble presence in Washington, D.C.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
The article on the Clinton Foundation the New York Times published today is a reminder of what you inevitably get with Bill and Hillary Clinton: tremendous smarts, drive, ambition … and a lot of baggage.
"For all of its successes, the Clinton Foundation had become a sprawling concern, supervised by a rotating board of old Clinton hands, vulnerable to distraction and threatened by conflicts of interest," Nicholas Confessore and Amy Chozick report. "It ran multimillion-dollar deficits for several years, despite vast amounts of money flowing in. And concern was rising inside and outside the organization about Douglas J. Band, a onetime personal assistant to Mr. Clinton who had started a lucrative corporate consulting firm — which Mr. Clinton joined as a paid adviser — while overseeing the Clinton Global Initiative, the foundation’s glitzy annual gathering."
Why does this matter?
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
In 2008, progressives knocked her out of the race. This time, they’re lining up behind her — a product of disillusionment with Obama and a perceived inevitability.
Read more. [Image: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]
Who wants to square off against an opponent who’ll have a better fundraising operation, a better resume, and a spouse who happens to be America’s best surrogate? At the moment when the first black president is preparing to leave the White House, who will want to run against someone with a more than viable chance of becoming the first woman president?
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
[Image: AP, Kevin Wolf]
UPDATE: Clinton’s “whining” quote was about The Catcher in the Rye, not about Anne-Marie Slaughter, according to a transcript of the interview.
It is a truism about the contemporary workplace that women, even feminists, who are bosses may not be any more sympathetic to their female employees’ concerns for work-life balance than men because they have had to work so hard to get and stay where they are, and they hold their own capacity to burn the candle at both ends as the standard. It’s also a truism that high-powered U.S. government jobs are burn-out positions that men frequently leave after two years, and that few save those with extraordinary physical constitutions and a great deal of personal help on the home front can manage some of the toughest of them for much longer.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has finally weighed in publicly on Anne-Marie Slaughter’s July/August Atlantic cover story, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” and in the process reminded me of both understandings of Washington life.
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