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Monday, September 03, 2012

Hillary watch

Just in case you're curious — and I am, obviously — the SecState's official website says she's spending Monday (which is barely underway in Texas as I write this), September 3, in Jakarta (where it's already early Monday afternoon now), and she is expected in Beijing on Tuesday-Wednesday, September 4-5.

But what's next? Again per Secretary Clinton's official schedule on her official government website:

On [Thursday,] September 6, Secretary Clinton will be the first Secretary of State to travel to Dili, where she will emphasize U.S. support for the young democracy of Timor-Leste in her meetings with senior officials.

In Brunei, Secretary Clinton will meet with senior officials to emphasize the importance of the increasingly vibrant U.S.-Brunei relationship. She will also highlight the U.S.-Brunei ASEAN English Language initiative and discuss Brunei’s 2013 chairmanship of ASEAN.

The final stop on Secretary Clinton’s trip will be Vladivostok, where she will lead the U.S. delegation to the APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting [on Saturday-Sunday,] September 8-9....

Meanwhile back in Charlotte, North Carolina, the official schedule for the Democratic National Convention promises that:

President Obama and Vice President Biden will accept the Democratic nominations for President and Vice President on Thursday, September 6 at Bank of America Stadium.

I note that many pundits have asserted that Secretary Clinton is not only not attending her husband Bubba's speech (which I fully expect to be the highlight of the entire convention), she's scheduled to be on the other side of the world. Many wise pundits whom I admire insist that Obama could never replace Biden because it would imply a mistake in choosing Biden to begin with, a mistake which Obama is incapable of admitting. And I certainly don't expect Secretary Clinton to create an international incident by publicly snubbing the Indonesians or the Chinese or the Russians.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a joint news conference with New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key (not pictured) in Rarotonga August 31, 2012 (Reuters photo via voanews.com)But to the argument that Obama can't admit error: That's true, but it's still never stopped him from changing direction on a dime (see, e.g., his sudden epiphany that he really does support gay marriage). Obama is undeniably over-proud, but one must also take into account the Beldar Corollary: "Only a sucker would base any bet on the proposition that Barack Obama is capable of being shamed by anything."

Once or twice already in the two and a third centuries of American diplomatic history, a small country (like, say, Dili or Brunei) may have been disappointed when an American diplomat has sent a subordinate or asked to postpone a meeting. I don't know how important the Obama Administration thinks Timor-Leste is in the grand scheme of things, but apparently no American SecState has taken time to go there either before or since its independence a decade ago. While in Dili, Secretary Clinton is scheduled to "visit a coffee plantation," but one doubts whether missing that visit would be a casus belli even with the East Timoreans. And it would be in the Sultan of Brunei's financial interests to see Obama win, assuming the sultan wants to continue America's dependence on foreign oil. (He's surely shrewd enough to contain his giggles whenever anyone mentions Obama's "green energy" push.) Indeed, if you skimmed the roster of the U.N. looking for countries to which the SecState could most easily send a brush-off her polite regrets at the last minute and with no real consequence, Timor-Leste and Brunei would be hard to top. 

Screencap of SecState Clinton's current travel map — state.gov/secretary/trvl/map/
Screencap of SecState Clinton's current travel map — state.gov/secretary/trvl/map/ — early on Sep. 3, 2012

Moreover, the world is smaller than it used to be, especially when you are the SecState and you have the resources of the U.S. Air Force at your command. The press covering her trip consists largely of the reporters traveling on her plane; and such reporters are routinely held incommunicado while they're being re-routed across the globe without notice or apology, as with Obama's recent surprise trip to Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. Charlotte Douglas International Airport is a joint civil-military facility, one to which a government plane could easily divert and land in complete secrecy. And even upon leaving the USAF's protective arms to venture into a busy city, a cabinet secretary, when she wants, can move with far greater stealth than, say, a Hollywood celebrity like Clint Eastwood (who famously played a Secret Service agent on film, but doesn't have any himself).

If the sudden replacement for Joe Biden had just secretly flown in from international diplomatic negotiations in Beijing, and was about to head off to Russia afterwards, that would certainly add to the breathless excitement of a Thursday night surprise, wouldn't it? Would anyone in the country still be talking on Friday about the latest disastrous unemployment figures or the $16 trillion national debt milestone?

So, being admittedly paranoid and fond of conspiracy theories — and still of the firm opinion that this switch would represent Obama's best hope for reelection and Hillary's best hope to succeed him — I'll believe Joe Biden's job is safe when I see reliable proof that Secretary Clinton has stepped onto the tarmac at the Presidente Nicolau Lobato International Airport in Dili.

I will be happy to be proved wrong, and I hope I will be.

But if you're a would-be Democratic voter this fall and my prediction indeed fails, will you not be disappointed?

Posted by Beldar at 01:15 AM in 2012 Election, Foreign Policy, Obama, Politics (2012), Travel | Permalink

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Comments

(1) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 3, 2012 2:20:43 AM | Permalink

Before you argue with me that Hillary would certainly have said "No" to an offer that she replace Biden, please read this post and its comments, plus this post and its comments. Maybe also this one and this one too. Thanks.

Oh, and for other examples of shameless pivots by the shameless Obama, see also his abandonment of single-payer national health care, his abandonment of commitments to close Gitmo and try terrorists in civilian court in NYC, etc. Being shameless gives one ... flexibility.

(2) John Wheat Gibson made the following comment | Sep 3, 2012 12:52:09 PM | Permalink

Agreed. ee cummings wrote, "A politician is an arse upon which everything has sat except a man." There will be no exceptions in the executive branch of the U.S. government, regardless of which vampire is elected president.

(3) DRJ made the following comment | Sep 4, 2012 4:18:42 AM | Permalink

Here's another reason I'll be glad when this week is over.

(4) Dafydd, Piper of Pope Dreams made the following comment | Sep 4, 2012 4:32:00 AM | Permalink

Beldar:

But if you're a would-be Democratic voter this fall and my prediction indeed fails, will you not be disappointed?

The interestinger question is, if your prediction indeed fails, will you be disappointed? Even just a little?

Dafydd

(5) Greg Q made the following comment | Sep 4, 2012 11:56:32 AM | Permalink

Daffdd,

To answer your question I'll quote something I said a couple of weeks ago: "Now, you are right that Hillary is in serious trouble if Obama replaces Biden with someone other than her, AND Obama wins re-election. Which is why I'm kind of hoping he does replace Biden with someone not Hillary. Because at that point the Clintons are going to want Romney to beat Obama."

Only three US Presidents have managed to get their VP elected as their successor: Washington, Jackson, and Reagan. In all three cases, the former VP lost re-election four years later. Unless Hillary expects Obama to die in the next four years (realistically three years, she'd need time to establish herself as President before facing the voters), she'd be an idiot to take the position.

Which means Obama would be an idiot to offer it to her. Because her rejection would make him look bad, and her acceptance would be a personal threat.

(6) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 4, 2012 6:21:29 PM | Permalink

Dafydd (#4 above), I already answered that question in the post: I will be relieved if my prediction is false, not disappointed. I want Obama to lose, and I think replacing Biden with Hillary could and would help him win.

I'd like to be able to say "I told you so" if Hillary shows up on stage in Charlotte on Thursday night, but not remotely enough to wish, even a little, for something that would improve Obama's reelection chances.

I will concede only that if Obama does win, I would very much prefer for Joe Biden no longer to be first in the line of presidential succession. And there are a great many prominent Democrats besides Hillary who would be an improvement over Biden, even though I'd never vote for them myself. (See, e.g., my earlier suggestion of former Sen. Evan Bayh (D-IA), another more moderate Democrat who'd at least let Obama pretend to be tacking more toward the center.) I would never wish ill health on President Obama, but I honestly will continue to pray for Barack Obama's continued good health with extra enthusiasm, and not just for his sake but for the country's, for so long as Obama is POTUS and Biden is his Veep.

(7) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 4, 2012 6:26:24 PM | Permalink

Greg Q (#5 above), I don't agree with your math. You left out the President (Adams) for whom Jefferson was Veep, and of course Nixon was also a Veep (albeit he didn't immediately follow Eisenhower). Moreover, besides Jefferson, Adams, Van Buren, Nixon, and Bush-41 (the five former Veeps who've eventually been elected as POTUS):

[N]ine Vice Presidents have succeeded to the presidency due to the death or resignation of the POTUS (Tyler, Filmore, A. Johnson, Arthur, T. Roosevelt, Coolidge, Truman, L. Johnson, and Ford).

(If you were serious about restricting your list to Presidents who actively campaigned for their Veeps to become their successors, then you should omit Washington from the list, too: Although Adams and the Federalists would much have liked to claim Washington, and although he leaned toward them more than toward Jefferson's faction, Washington made a carefully studied show of neutrality regarding who should be his successor. I will grant you that Adams didn't support Jefferson, obviously, and that Eisenhower's support for Nixon in 1960 was rather tepid.)

Fourteen out of forty-four (really only forty-three) is nothing to sniff at. But even using your formulation, three out of forty-three looks pretty good compared to the odds of becoming POTUS if you're one of the hundreds of millions of Americans throughout American history who haven't been Veep first.

As for it making Obama look bad or Hillary threatening him: Seriously? She's already his top Cabinet officer and fifth in the presidential line of succession. She would quite possibly be more irrelevant as Veep — a job in which except for tie-breaking in the Senate, she'd have no other duties or responsibilities except what he chooses to give her — than she is now as Obama's SecState. Certainly as SecState she's done less to embarrass Obama, or to force Obama's hand prematurely, than Biden has as Veep.

The one thing you can always count upon is that a Clinton will follow his/her perceived self-interest no matter what. I think she'd say (or have said) "No" to an offer to replace Biden only if she was absolutely convinced that Obama is going to lose in 2012 even with her and Bubba's best good-faith efforts to help reelect him, and that being on his ticket would hurt her 2016 chances more than they'd help them (e.g., by denying "heir apparent" status to everyone else), and that the damage from that association would be substantially greater than that to which she's already committed as Obama's SecState.

(8) Greg Q made the following comment | Sep 5, 2012 3:23:35 PM | Permalink

Beldar,

Jefferson was not "Adams' VP", he was Adams' competitor in the 1796 election, and became VP because he came in 2nd place in the election. An entirely different situation than in any other American election, because the rules were quickly changed to acknowledge the existence and importance of the political parties.

No voter blamed Jefferson for anything Adams did. Jefferson never had to support the Adams Administration when it did something he didn't agree with. His situation was entirely different from the situation any following VP faced, or that Hillary would face.

Adams was George Washington's chosen VP. He parlayed that, and the connection created in the public's mind, into becoming President. Jefferson was NOT Adams' chosen VP. The public did not connect the two, the way all other Presidents and Vice-Presidents have been connected. Jefferson could spend his four years as VP trying to undercut Adams, because he was, and was planning on, nominated by the opposing party.

Hillary won't have that luxury.

Nixon ran for President in 1960 as Ike's VP. He lost. He ran eight years later, against the LBJ Administration and what it had done, and won. In an earlier post, you pointed out Hillary's age, and that she doesn't want to wait another 8 years to run for President. That makes Nixon not a good role model for her, since to follow his path she'd have to wait another 12 years before taking office.

As for the other nine, they were covered under "Unless Hillary expects Obama to die in the next four years (realistically three years, she'd need time to establish herself as President before facing the voters), she'd be an idiot to take the position." No?

(9) Beldar made the following comment | Sep 7, 2012 1:11:12 AM | Permalink

Greg Q, thanks again for the lively comments, and the civil and articulate expression of them. However:

Exactly none of the Veeps who've become POTUS by succession expected that to happen when they accepted the nominations of their parties. Death often comes unexpectedly, even to the relatively young and apparently healthy. Don't look at Obama's youth and vigor, just look at the actuarial statistics for American Presidents.

But if you do insist on looking at Obama's specific risks, recall that the #1 cause of death for American males in his age group, and especially among other black men, is coronary heart disease, and the #2 cause of death is lung cancer — both closely associated with smoking, a habit that the President has had and may still have. Obama has released less medical information than any other President or even presidential candidate in the last century — including John F. Kennedy, who regularly released medical information (even though it was heavily edited, always misleading, and sometimes an outright lie). We think Obama seems healthy, and it's safe to assume he has the best medical care in the world, but we really have no metrics for his health beyond what we can observe on TV. We know that in public and away from the First Lady, he eats burgers and chili dogs, albeit not at a Clintonean rate, but what are his cholesterol numbers? Do you know his average blood pressure? Do you know what daily meds he takes? Do you know if he still smokes? These are all secrets guarded much more closely than, say, the operational tactics of SEAL Team 6. Do you know of any good reason for that? I certainly don't, but the obvious inference is that there's something there which Obama doesn't want to have discussed in public.

And while I'm sure you join me in hoping and trusting that the Secret Service and our other law enforcement authorities will keep Pres. Obama safe from physical harm, there are crazies from both far right, far left, and far orbits beyond Saturn who certainly wish and try to do him harm. And as fabulous as the pilots and drivers are who ferry him by air or land all over the world, as careful with their munitions as all his guards are, as carefully as his food and water and air supplies are monitored and safeguarded, there is still a tiny risk of accidental death.

Finally, I don't have a hard time imagining that something Pres. Obama has done, or might do in a second term, could end up getting him impeached in the House and convicted in the Senate, or forced into a Nixonian resignation just short of that. Maybe it will be another Libya-style flouting of the War Powers Act (in which case I might be on Obama's side, depending on the circumstances), or maybe it will be Fast and Furious, or maybe something we don't have a hint of now.

The point is that there are multiple paths to VPOTUS succession to POTUS — and while none of them individually is very likely, any of them is possible, and collectively, as history has demonstrated, they have put nine Presidents into office.

And of course you're correct about the unique circumstances of Jefferson becoming Veep, but he was still Veep during Adams' administration, making him in that sense — the only sense I meant, or that was relevant (since I'd acknowledged already that they weren't co-partisans) — "Adams' Veep."

But we're repeating ourselves. Let's stop.

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