The case for John Kerry

The President’s reelection last night will turn everyone’s attention to the new faces to be seen in the White House and Cabinet.  While nothing is certain, it seems more likely than not that the Bay State’s senior Senator will be making a move to Foggy Bottom.

There are many good reason for the President to make this appointment.

First, stature.  There are not many internationally recognized political leaders who will serve in the Cabinet.  The President found one in Hillary Clinton much as George W. Bush found one in Colin Powell.  John Kerry fits the bill, perhaps more so than Clinton or Powell.

A longtime member of the Foreign Relations Committee who has served as its Chair and who also ran a competitive presidential campaign brings the type of gravitas that will be thought of highly in foreign capitals.  It signals the President’s respect for foreign policy that he’d be willing to appoint a peer and someone with a considerable political constituency of his own to represent the nation.

Second, the issues.  There’s no question that a Democratic chair of the Foreign Relations committee under a Democratic President will have intimate knowledge of the major issues confronting the nation.  He also will not need to be introduced to the White House thinking on these issues.  If an element of stability and continuity is desirable in foreign policy, Kerry will bring both.

His own knowledge of American foreign policy and its many entanglements is deep.  The Senator brings his personal experiences from Vietnam to the table as well as his too often overlooked political experiences investigating BCCI.

Finally, Kerry can get through the Senate.   The Benghazi issue is not going to go away.  If the President nominates Susan Rice, he will be assured of a nomination fight by Republicans who, in the aftermath of their brutal defeat last night, will be looking for any opening.  It’s not a fight the White House needs as it prepares to deal with the so-called “fiscal cliff” and other divisive issues on the docket.  Rice could win in the Senate but it will be bruising and time-consuming with a greater amount of uncertainty regarding the final outcome.

A question that Kerry will reasonably have is how much authority he will have to steer foreign policy and what the relationship between the White House and State Department will be like in a second term. Clinton and the President have developed a working relationship, even if it doesn’t extend down to the staff level.  Bush and Powell never did.

An Obama-Kerry partnership will never be as close as the one between George H.W. Bush and Jim Baker.  But Kerry surely doesn’t want the position if he’ll be cast aside in the manner of William Rogers during the Nixon presidency.

That seems unlikely if he gets the nod.  Kerry helped introduce the unknown state senator from Illinois to a national audience in 2004.  He’s been an ally of this White House and worked hard to ensure victory last night.  He’s heading, both in age and temperament, to senior statesman level.  The President would be making a wise calculation in appointing him.

About Peter Ubertaccio

Peter Ubertaccio is the Director of Joseph Martin Institute for Law & Society at Stonehill College in Easton and Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science & International Studies. His work focuses on political parties, marketing and institutions. He received his Ph.D. in Politics from Brandeis University in Waltham, MA. Professor Ubertaccio and his family live on Cape Cod where he is on the Board of Directors of the OpenCape Corporation and the Sandwich Economic Initiative Corporation.
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