Before the Susan Rice trial balloon was fully aloft, I tried to make a case for John Kerry as the next Secretary of State. Now that the trial balloon is up and receiving its share of arrows, the White House should bring it back down and make the appointment. And it should be Kerry.
Presidential second terms typically descend into smallness, scandals, or political defeats. Sometimes all three. For all of the effort it takes to win reelection, second terms are often anticlimactic. They are rarely remembered for acts of presidential greatness.
There are often good reasons for this. Given the opportunity for a final four years, any White House wants to consolidate its political and policy gains and looks to administer existing programs.
But there is a staleness to second terms as the political winds shift in another direction and the congressional-presidential relationships deteriorates even further.
There is no magic formula to buck this trend, no single action that can salvage a second term. But adding political heft to his team might help invigorate the administration.
Forget a team of rivals. What the President needs is a team of titans.
Susan Rice is qualified to be Secretary of State, no matter what John McCain thinks. Yes, the Benghazi issue will dominate the hearing and she’ll be attacked and the hearings will be ugly. That’s no reason to avoid appointing her and certainly the more McCain attacks her, the more the White House may want to forge ahead. They’ll expend political capital if they choose to do so but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t. While it is worth wondering how anyone could believe McCain is the person to pontificate on the qualifications of those who might ascend high office, he’s clearly brought along some of his fellow Senators on this issue and that’s not likely to go away.
The President should look to the senior Senator of Massachusetts because Susan Rice does not bring the political heft that John Kerry brings.
Bringing Hilary Clinton into the Cabinet was a masterful move because she brought with her a nationwide–indeed, international–constituency that gave her tremendous standing in her own right. She did not need the appointment to build her own stature, though that has been a byproduct of her four years in the State Department.
And so it is with Kerry. An undisputed expert in American foreign policy with senior status in the Senate and a presidential campaign to boot, he brings more to the Cabinet than most. Such an appointment would speak volume about the President’s confidence, his own standing, and his ability to bring the best and the biggest into his White House.
The President will only benefit from having an expert such as Kerry who has is own political standing beyond the White House giving him foreign policy advice.
To be sure, a Cabinet full of grand figures in American politics would be difficult to manage from the White House. The staff there would need to develop the internal fortitude and procedures to handle a team of titans. Harmonious Cabinet-staff relations are elusive under the best of circumstances. The President can go a long way to establishing the trend, and indeed he has already with Clinton even if respective staffs haven’t fully warmed up to each other.
A team of titans might help stave off the doldrums of a second term and bringing John Kerry to State would be a very good first move in that direction.