Barack Obama is getting his first lesson in the on-the-job training course for the presidency. If he can stand up to Hillary Clinton and her sidekick, we'll all feel a little better about his coming conversations with Vladimir Putin, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Kim Jong-il, with or without preconditions.
Henry Kissinger might be correct, that Hillary would make an "outstanding" secretary of state, that such an appointment would be an act of manly "courage" by the president-elect. He should know. "To appoint a very strong personality with an independent constituency into a Cabinet position," he says, would be "a symbol of a new approach." All perhaps true.
But "courage" is sometimes fool's courage. Far back in another century Bubba warned us that he and the missus come bundled as one: "Buy one, get one free." Mr. Obama himself no doubt knows this. When he was asked Sunday night on "60 Minutes" about the prospect of Hillary and Bubba moving in with the Obamas at the White House, he said the right things, but he looked like a man who had just learned that his mother-in-law is coming for Christmas to stay through the Fourth of July.
This is a headache he didn't order and doesn't deserve. The Hillary buzz has all the earmarks of something media-made, the inevitable work of aides, reporters and pundits with too much time on their hands and desperate for something to disturb the quiet tranquility of the morning after a long campaign. The frenzy all started when someone quoted an Obama "aide" - anonymous, of course - saying that Mr. Obama was "considering" appointing Hillary as the dowager queen of Foggy Bottom. Maybe the aide was having a little sport with a reporter, maybe the author of that first dispatch was merely taking his imagination out for an evening stroll. The media, having created a president, now wants to "help" the president-elect create his administration. Heady stuff, and if it creates only a headache for Mr. Obama, well, he owes 'em, big time.
Mr. Obama has been here before, and we've heard how bright he is and how swiftly he learns from mistakes (not that he ever made any). He resisted Hillary and Bubba when he chose his vice president, all but cleaving the party into irreconcilable factions, and if he hasn't learned from that, Hillary and Bubba surely have. They have mounted their battered steamroller once more, and the inevitable nominee rides again in demand of the lesser prize.
Bubba's take on the progress of the ride, given to Agence France-Presse at an economic palaver in Kuwait, tells a lot to anyone paying close attention: "If [Obama] decided to ask her and they did it together, I think she'll be really great as a secretary of state." Notice that the president-elect and Hillary are cast here as equals; other presidents don't have to make an appointment "together" with anyone. There's more: "She worked very hard for his election after the primary fight with him, and so did I ... " Everything is always all about the "Big He," as Monica Lewinsky famously called him.
The Big He will only want to help the president-elect at every turn, furnishing not just a secretary of state but advice and consent on everything else. Once he and the new secretary of state move their things back to Pennsylvania Avenue (Barack and Michelle get the Lincoln Bedroom) he'll always be close by, the man who came to dinner. The Obama transition team rightly professes concern about Bubba's global financial entanglements, some more mysterious than others. His Clinton Global Initiative has set out to cure AIDS, malaria and poverty in Africa - not by this Christmas but surely by the next - and is collecting billions of dollars from foreign governments to do it.
So far the Clintons are resisting efforts to inspect the particulars of these gifts and questions about whether a secretary of state with a husband hustling billions from governments a secretary of state deals with is such a good idea.
But not to worry. Bubba would never fib about important things, like money and sex. If he says everything is OK, that ought to be good enough. Nevertheless, the best advice Barack Obama has heard about his most important appointment comes from John Bolton, the former ambassador to the United Nations: "Obama should remember the rule that you should never hire somebody you can't fire."