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Hillary + Obama = High Drama


It's too early to tell what changes Hillary Clinton will bring to Barack Obama's foreign policy, but she's already had an enormous effect on his brand. Her addition to his team has turned "No Drama Obama" into "Mo' Drama Obama."

Hillary's appointment isn't even official, but the Obama/Clinton narrative has already left the realm of politics. Its twists, turns, shadings, and complex emotions are the stuff of literature.

But who would be the best writer to do this saga justice?

Reading the New York Times' accounts (here and here) of the "awkward dance" that led to Hillary's selection by "the man who dashed her own hopes for the presidency," I thought of Henry James.

It's Portrait of a Lady Secretary of State, in which the morally compromised symbol of the Old World (1990s D.C.) meets the brash, confident, audacious young upstart from the New World. Will the lady be able to "still have her voice " while at the same time "subordinating her ambitions?" Will she be "seen as her own person?" On the other side, will his "self confidence to name a global brand as his emissary" later be unmasked as, instead, a dangerous naiveté? Of course, in James' version, not only would the answer to that last one be yes, it would also likely be the agent of his destruction. Let's hope that Obama is able to rewrite that storyline -- and that The Ambassadors won't become The Turn of the Screw.

But given the palace intrigue that always accompanies the Clintons, James may be too genteel. Consider: in the two Times stories examining the "Clinton-Obama détente," we hear from "confidants of Mrs. Clinton," "former Clinton administration officials...who admire Mrs. Clinton," "a longtime friend," "a former aide," "two advisors to Mrs. Clinton," "a longtime friend of the Clintons who broke with them," "one Clinton advisor," "lawyers on both sides," "people close to the vetting," "close aides to Mrs. Clinton," "her confidants, who insisted on anonymity," "a close associate of Mrs. Clinton," and "one Democrat who is close to both Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton."

So by taking in Hillary, Obama is getting more than just Hillary -- and more than just Hillary and Bill -- he's getting the entire Royal Court of the House of Clinton, complete with chancellors, chamberlains, and a court-jester or two.

De Laclos' Les Liaisons Dangereuses? Or the high farce of Moliere? Or, considering the gravity of the times, do we need Shakespeare?

Of course, if Henry VIII and Richard II are any guide, Shakespeare was decidedly less optimistic about the idea of a "team of rivals" working productively together than Doris Kearns Goodwin.

But, actually, the writer whose work the Obama/Clinton relationship may most resemble is considerably more modern. Let's look at the plot line: a man and a woman start out as fierce rivals, bitterly fighting over seemingly small differences. Much talking ensures -- some of it funny, some of it hurtful. Finally, just when all seems lost, they both suddenly realize they were enamored of each other all along. But they don't actually end up in each other's arms until after an extended third act tease.

It's a Nora Ephron romantic comedy. When Hillary Met Barack. Sleepless in Chappaqua. You've Got Fundraising Email.

Two intensely driven politicians cross paths, each seeking the highest office in the land -- talk about a cute meet!

Then we have the protracted primary battles, the lingering pre-convention resentment, the flirtation with making her vice president, the rejection and selection of another, the renewed post-victory courtship -- with Hillary responding by playing hard-to-get. Finally, he offers her full entrée -- to the Oval Office if not to his heart -- and she ultimately relents. They agree to give the relationship a go. Apparently.

According to Elizabeth Bumiller in the Times, the relationship began to "thaw" when Obama was struck by the passion Hillary showed during her convention speech. After all, what could be hotter to a politician than the passionate embrace of a rival?

Then it really heated up: "By this past Thursday, when Mr. Obama reassured Mrs. Clinton that as secretary of state she would have direct access to him and could select her own staff, the wooing was complete." "Direct access?" Oh, behave!

Bumiller also cites the pair's "working chemistry," and writes that Obama appreciated Hillary's "discipline." Now that's hot: bonding over the ability to stay on message!

Another tidbit: Obama once called Hillary "directly from his cellphone to hers" just to "check in." Awww. Just like Harry and Sally calling to check in with each other while watching TV.

And while it doesn't have the exhilarating excitement of Billy Crystal's mad dash to the New Year's party, or the exquisite tension of Tom Hanks' last-second return to the top of the Empire State Building, Obama's climactic proposal to Hillary seems to have done the trick: "She feels like she's been treated very well in the way she's been asked," said a close associate of Mrs. Clinton.

Colin Powell and George Bush never really got along. Powell was like a trophy wife, brought aboard to make Bush look good. But it was never a love match. Even when Powell gifted Bush with that sparkling vile of fake anthrax and the decisive UN speech in the run-up to the war, the love just wasn't there. And we see what that got us.

On the other hand, Condi Rice was Bush's office wife. She adored him. He put stars in her eyes and made her heart skip a beat. But that didn't help her do a single worthwhile thing as Secretary of State.

Hillary seems like she will exist somewhere in the middle. Not the celebrity figurehead at Foggy Bottom, undermined by neocon underlings (the real object of Bush's affections). And not the moon-eyed adorer, incredibly loyal yet wholly ineffective.

So how does this story end? Will Barack and Hillary be able to make peace now that they've made peace?

Click here to read more developments and analysis on Obama's cabinet picks

If you are in the St. Louis area, I will be speaking at Maryville University on Tuesday, November 25th at 8PM.

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