Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hillary's Next Step

For many Democrats, Hillary Clinton's loss to Barack Obama was devastating. As the party moves to heal itself and prepare to take on the McCain/Palin ultra-conservative agenda, many of Sen. Clinton's supporters are pushing for a new role for their favorite lady. Four main options were put forward and some remain viable despite long odds and some difficult obstacles. Primarily Clinton supporters pushed hard for her nomination as Vice President. Obviously with Sen. Obama's choice of Joe Biden, that option has been removed from the table. Now that the White House is unavailable the options are becoming more and more creative.

During the long Democratic Primary campaign there was sporadic talk of a President Hillary Clinton nominating her husband for a vacant seat on the Supreme Court. Speculation never really took off because the media (and Hillary's campaign) were suddenly focusing on the practical need to win the nomination in the first place. Now Hillary supporters are pushing for Clinton (the Senator, not the President) to be named as the next Associate (or by some extremely unlikely fluke Chief) Justice of the Supreme Court. While Republicans would surely oppose a pro-choice Clinton on their precious court, there is some belief that she would be approved by the Senate. Because Democrats are most likely going to pick up 4+ seats and expand their majorities, it probably wouldn't be too hard to imagine her succeeding. Still, one thing remains unclear in my mind. Supreme Court Justices wield considerable power, but Hillary does not seem like a good fit for the last branch of government of which she has not been a part. Justices are typically reserved and stay out of the public spotlight. By definition they keep strange schedules and do not work often and are strictly (at least in theory) non-partisan. Hillary is strongly partisan and that is what we love about her. It's not that she can't work across the aisle, because she can, but her strong suit is simply that, her strength. She's a fighter (as she made abundantly clear during the primaries) and makes a compelling point which may be lost on much of the populace who do not routinely read Supreme Court rulings. While it would certainly make history to be named the first female Chief Justice of the United States, there is also the obstacle of John Roberts. He's not ancient and while he has had some health scares recently, there is no indication that he will be vacating his seat in the near future. That may be something that Hillary is unwilling to wait for. Lastly, all of this is contingent on Obama choosing Hillary for the role. Because she is in her 60s and because he may want someone who has a slightly longer staying power, he may be tempted to pick a younger wo/man. But Clinton supporters and curious bloggers will have to cross that bridge when we come to it.

Secondly and slightly more feasibly is a new PUMA craze. Hillary Rodham Clinton for Senate Majority Leader. While I think Hillary is much more suited for this role than as a Supreme Court Justice, it also has major hang-ups. First let me say that I think many Democrats agree that Harry Reid hasn't exactly done a bang up job as Majority Leader. His poll numbers in Nevada should prove that. While Hillary would be under criticism as the leading voice of Senate Democrats, I think that is a role at which she would be perfectly adept. She has the tenacity, the grit and determination to stand up to Republicans like Mitch McConnell and those are the fights that she is best at tackling. Rather than feign non-partisanship, embrace her partisan nature and attack those Republicans like only Hillary can do. She would do a fantastic job advocating for President Obama's policies and she is smart enough to make the political choices that would advance the party agenda without shrinking away from a confrontation. The obstacles are similar to those listed above, namely: No Vacancy. Perhaps is Harry Reid loses his bid for re-election in 2010 Hillary would have a better chance, but now it seems like a longshot. She certainly doesn't want to be seen as attacking other Democrats for her own political gain, and Harry Reid doesn't look like he's going anywhere anytime soon. The other difficulty is that while Hillary is certainly popular (and has the 18 million vote stat that she isn't shy about tossing around in conversation) she doesn't have the seniority of other Senators who would also like a chance at Reid's job. Chuck Schumer, her fellow New Yorker, for example, and Dick Durbin, who serves with Barack Obama, would both be in line in front of Hillary. Who knows whether or not she has the clout within the Senate to win the secret ballot for Majority Leader, but if she does, she would be the first woman to hold such a role and she would certainly do it justice.

The last and certainly most viable option would be a place in Barack Obama's cabinet. As Attorney General or Secretary of Health and Human Services or even (although it is a stretch) as Secretary of State. Each of these would give greater heft (as if she needed it) for another run for the White House in 2016. Like Majority Leader, I think Hillary would be ideally suited for any number of cabinet positions, but the question remains, Does she even want one? There's no telling whether or not she's interested in leaving the Senate at all and may simply continue there, becoming the next Ted Kennedy. If she did choose to take part in the Obama Administration, it would certainly give her the opportunity to craft policy, which is something she is skilled at doing. Again, only time will tell.

The last option is possible, but contingent on a big decision. If David Paterson decides to run for re-election Hillary would certainly not run against another African American for Governor of New York, but should he decide not to, Hillary could battle Cuomo for the Democratic nomination and move to Albany. Again, all of these questions are fun to ponder, but really mean nothing for today. Only Hillary knows what she's angling for in the months and years to come, but I for one am interested to see where she goes from here.

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