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Two Generations

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With the imminent selection of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, the major question that emerges is, how will she and Barack Obama work together? That is, will there be the seamless interaction between them of Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon or will there be the obvious distance that was apparent between Colin Powell and George W. Bush?

And most importantly, will they become political and ideological rivals as has sometimes happened in the past?

Past history provides some clues.

At the start of the Republic, George Washington chose Thomas Jefferson to be his Secretary of State. As a Democratic-Republican, Jefferson worked tirelessly to try to undermine Federalist goals, using his position in the government as a base to achieve his objectives. Jefferson and James Madison created a rival newspaper, The National Gazette, and Jefferson used the Gazette to undermine Washington's objectives. Jefferson was also one of the first "leakers" in the federal government, covertly slipping compromising state documents to journalist Philip Freneau, who was a chief correspondent for the Gazette. The leaked material painted a highly compromising picture of the Federalists and served to undermine their goals and objectives.

With Barack Obama's commitment to message discipline, the history of the Washington/Jefferson relationship provides at least a little context for why the new administration has been so cautious about the Clinton appointment, indeed all their appointments, going forward.

But there is other historical evidence that is more reassuring.

Abraham Lincoln's appointment of his former opponent William H. Seward as Secretary of State was much more successful. While Lincoln and Seward had differed dramatically about slavery during the 1860 campaign, they worked closely together in the new administration as Doris Kearns has compellingly shown in her book Team of Rivals. Seward negotiated the purchase of Alaska and built an informal U.S. presence in China, Japan, and Hawaii. Ultimately, Seward cooperated closely with Lincoln despite the obvious political and personal differences between them.

So the question emerges: which model is most likely to emerge from an Obama/Clinton partnership?

I suspect that President-elect Obama is likely to work seamlessly with Senator Clinton, and their partnership will be much closer to Lincoln and Seward than to Washington and Jefferson.

First and foremost, as a condition of accepting the position of Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton will have to close down her political operation and will not be able to raise money, hire partisan staff, or in any way advance her own political goals.

Moreover, both she and her husband, former President Clinton, will necessarily have to support the goals and policy positions of the Obama administration and it would be very difficult -- indeed well nigh impossible -- for either Clinton to pursue their own policy objectives.

Given the international challenges we face and the American people seeking unity and a new direction, this is hardly the time for internecine political conflict.

In fact, my best guess is that Hillary Clinton will be as loyal a supporter of Barack Obama as he is likely to have in his Cabinet. She will, I am virtually certain, conclude that this approach is best for the new Administration, for America, and indeed for herself.

Joshua Schoen is an 11th grade student at York Prep School in New York City.