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Madam Secretary?

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By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 14, 2008; 10:48 AM

This can't be just another trial balloon.

The Obama operation is too disciplined, too tightly run, just to throw Hillary Clinton's name out there for the heck of it.

With The Washington Post, NBC's Andrea Mitchell and CNN quoting sources as saying she's being considered for secretary of state, this is more than idle speculation. The Obama folks had to know it would make worldwide headlines. And the original explanation that Hillary was in Chicago on personal business is now, ah, inoperative; CNN reports this morning that the two met and discussed a potential appointment.

Remember the history: strained relations during the primaries -- "You're likable enough, Hillary"; "Shame on you, Barack Obama." Especially when she wouldn't concede, even on the final night of the primaries. She asked not to be vetted for VP unless Obama was serious, which he wasn't, so she wasn't. And no one was buzzing about Hillary for the Cabinet. So why would the Obama gang raise it and then disappoint her?

Of course, the senator from New York has got to want it, but somehow I doubt they would have put her name out there without ascertaining her interest. Could beat being just one of 100 senators.

Upside for Obama: It adds some instant pizazz to the administration. World leaders know Hillary. And it co-opts the president-elect's chief rival in the party.

Downside: Hmm, let me think. The man who promised change looks like he's assembling a sequel to the Clinton administration? Maybe. But Hillary seems like a catch. And if she balks, maybe Bill would do it.

In a similar vein, the naming of Ron Klain (Al Gore's former VP chief of staff) as Joe Biden's chief of staff prompts some ruminations from Atlantic's Marc Ambinder:

"So -- wait -- just how Change-y are Ron Klain and Rahm Emanuel? (Klain's Wikipedia entry begins: 'He is an influential Washington insider.') Go back to the campaign though. Obama hasn't ever surrounded himself with outsiders; he was encouraged to run by Tom Daschle and Dick Durbin; Ab Mikva and Newt Minow and Bill Daley were among his top advisors; Because he lives in Chicago, David Axelrod is not a Washington insider, but he is not an outsider by any means, and certainly is an 'insider' in the colloquial sense of the phrase. Obama chose Caroline Kennedy and Eric Holder (insiders) to run his vice presidential search; the vetting was conducted by veteran DC lawyers who had done this all before.

"Some Obama supporters probably expect more than a nickel's worth of change, but they may be conflating the direction of policy with the peopling of the administration. To be sure, Obama certainly has left the impression that one of the problems with Washington was its people. But he found out early on that he couldn't run a presidential campaign without Democratic insiders playing integral roles. He turned to symbolism (no lobbyist donations) over substance (staying in the public financing system). And then he picked Joe Biden. And now he's turning to people who know how power flows in Washington.

"It's more evidence that Obama's modus operandi is pragmatism -- (radical empiricism, some call it). The secret is that Obama intends [to] use very pragmatic, temperamentally conservative means to achieve radical -- not in the Bill Ayers sense but in the huge, big, transformative sense -- changes in how Washington works and how it relates to Americans."

Time's Karen Tumulty, recalling the Klain character in the HBO movie "Recount," adds:


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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