One way to look at the job of president, or at least the kind of president who leads a broad-based national movement for change and promises to be a major transformative figure, is as the sharpest eyed and smartest media critic in the land. He can see through the flimflam - the layer of media-created conventional wisdom that often takes on a life of its own - to perceive the truth below as no one else can.
Barack Obama, in short, understands the media better than anyone else living, because he is the one who created the narrative that took over our national life; he is the one whose choices and nonchoices have, to a degree we have not seen in years, resulted in a press that is behind him and excited by him and yes, impressed by him.
All with one big exception: the focus on the "drama" a choice of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State would allegedly bring.
If you're Maureen Dowd, whose tragic decline from a great columnist and stylist to cranky obsessive fantasist is now complete, then you can write "Clinton" and "drama" and "Clinton" and "drama" and "Clinton" and "drama" week after week after week, and then, with not a twitch of shame or embarrassment, write a column declaring, "Whenever the Clintons are mentioned, the talk soon turns to drama."
Obama is not bitter and is not worried that his best days are behind him; he has the wisdom to look for larger truths, not focus on some endless self-perpetuating vendetta. Obama knows that while Dowd and Keith Olbermann and a lot of smart people were telling us that the Obama campaign had been damaged beyond repair by the tough Hillary Clinton challenge, in fact the opposite was true; he was going to be just fine in the end. Once she was out of the race, and convention coverage focused on a tiny minority of angry women Hillary supporters, Obama had the perspective to see through all the chatter and to admire Hillary's convention speech for the masterpiece it was. He was and is No Drama Obama. He watched with a professional eye, and saw real political skill - that he wanted for himself.
Why can't we all respect Obama a little more? Why the patronizing spin that he's somehow failing to notice some epic, unstoppable, GARGANTUAN "drama" factor that anyone who gorges on the media will tell you "must" be there, since so many reporter types get so excited when talking about it?
I think anyone who doubts how smart Obama is makes a major mistake. He sees a world in crisis and a nation in crisis - a global emergency, nothing less - and wants to get to work on January 20. He knows it's going to take work - and lots of it - to begin to address the damage of the Bush years, to begin to reach out to our allies and would-be allies not for the sort of Photo Op Diplomacy practiced by the Bush administration, but real give and take, real talking and listening, real brain-storming for new solutions to old problems.
If you think one or both Clintons are great villains, fine - that's your opinion. But can we please try to heed Obama's message that this is a time to look beyond old frustrations and discontents, old grudges or reservations, and focus not just on personalities, but on the job at hand?
A whole foreign-policy establishment would love to bring back the days when they had a Secretary of State Kissinger to write about - with an elaborate world view that can be parsed in academic journals endlessly. But the job has changed over the years. The No. 1 job of the U.S. Secretary of State in the years ahead will be to work to reverse the dramatic international trend that has led to greatly diminished U.S. credibility and respect in the world. Specific challenges loom - the Palestinians and Israel, Georgia and Ukraine and NATO, how to convince Turkey to accept an autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan - but none can be addressed without first tackling the underlying problem of near-zero U.S. influence in recent years.
The majority viewpoint abroad - not unanimous, but majority - is that Hillary Clinton would be a very effective representative of Obama abroad in this all-important work. It will be fascinating to watch how the Obama administration handles this challenge. Mostly it will be a lot of hand-shaking and plane-ramp-descending and group-picture-taking - a long, difficult grind; Hillary loves hard work. What it will not be, however, is very dramatic - no matter how many times Maureen Dowd tells us it is.