3 a.m. Seems So Long Ago

By Dana Milbank
Tuesday, December 2, 2008

When Barack Obama stood on the stage in Chicago yesterday with his "dear friend" Hillary Clinton at his side, it was the starkest evidence yet that change had come -- to the president-elect.

Peter Baker of the New York Times pointed out to Obama that he once held a different view of his nominee to be secretary of state. "You belittled her travels around the world, equating it to having teas with foreign leaders," Baker recalled. "And your new White House counsel said that her résumé was grossly exaggerated when it came to foreign policy. I'm wondering whether you can talk about the evolution of your views of her credentials since the spring."

"Well, I mean, I think --" Obama began. "This is fun for the press to try to stir up whatever quotes were generated during the course of the campaign."

"They're your quotes, sir," Baker pointed out.

"No, I understand. And you're having fun," Obama continued. "And there's nothing wrong with that. I'm not faulting it." Obama grinned broadly. Clinton smiled faintly.

Baker's "fun" was actually a serious, even startling, development: Obama, who campaigned against the Clinton way of doing things, is now engaged in a veritable restoration of the Clinton administration. As The Post's Al Kamen and Philip Rucker report, Obama has appointed at least nine veteran Clinton aides to top positions in his White House so far. Of the seven Cabinet-level nominees Obama has officially announced, four served in the Clinton administration.

But since Obama himself said "there's nothing wrong" with stirring up the old quotes from the campaign, Post researcher Alice Crites accepted the president-elect's invitation yesterday and plunged deep into Nexis.

Remember Clinton, earlier this year? "Senator McCain will bring a lifetime of experience to the campaign, I will bring a lifetime of experience, and Senator Obama will bring a speech that he gave in 2002," she said.

Obama retorted that his foreign experience is "not just of what world leader I went and talked to in the ambassador's house who I had tea with."

And while we're reopening old wounds, there was Obama's mocking claim that "I don't think that Madeleine Albright would think that Hillary Clinton was the face of foreign policy during the Clinton administration."

Greg Craig, now tapped by Obama to be White House counsel, issued a campaign memo back then saying that Clinton "did not have a security clearance" and "did not do any heavy-lifting with foreign governments."

On and on it went. Clinton dismissed Obama as a "talker," not a doer. Obama adviser Samantha Power called Clinton a "monster." Obama said Clinton wasn't "that concerned about accuracy or the truth."

"Shame on you," Clinton once scolded her rival. She said Obama would "put the prestige of the presidency on the line," and her spokesman said Obama would flunk the "commander-in-chief test."

Obama said Clinton represented "the same typical politics that we've seen in Washington."

Clinton said Obama "never take[s] responsibility for any vote."

Obama on Clinton: "Hillary is not the first politician in Washington to declare mission accomplished a little too soon."

Clinton on Obama: "If you rail against the special interests, like the oil companies and all the giveaways and tax breaks they've been given, but you voted for Dick Cheney's energy bill, that's not change."

Obama on Clinton: "While I was working on those streets, watching those folks see their jobs shift overseas, you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board at Wal-Mart. I was fighting those fights."

Clinton on Obama: "You were practicing law and representing your contributor Rezko in a slum landlord business in inner-city Chicago."

But there in Tony Rezko's Chicago yesterday was Clinton herself. "She's an American of tremendous stature who will have my complete confidence, who knows many of the world's leaders, who will command respect in every capital," Obama said. "Hillary's appointment is a sign to friend and foe of the seriousness of my commitment to renew American diplomacy and restore our alliances."

Clinton, called to the microphone to say a "few words," uttered 470 of them, including a tribute to her fellow New Yorkers, praise for the troops, and thoughts about global warming and the economy. "Leaving the Senate is very difficult for me," she reported.

Reuters's Caren Bohan asked Obama how he could avoid "a clash of rivals" in his administration. "I will be responsible for the vision that this team carries out," the president-elect replied. "So as Harry Truman said, the buck will stop with me."

The skepticism persisted. Obama found himself telling ABC News's Jake Tapper that his nominees "would not be joining this team unless they understood and were prepared to carry out the decisions that have been made by me," and telling the Times' Baker that if Clinton "didn't believe that I was equipped to lead this nation in such a difficult time, she would not have accepted."

The Chicago Tribune's John McCormick asked the president-elect for "a little bit of a story" about choosing Clinton. "It was not a light-bulb moment," Obama demurred. "I have always admired Senator Clinton."

A few minutes later, the talker and the monster departed the room, arm in arm.

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