Hillary Clinton's High Noon

01/16/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

It is said that in Washington no one believes a rumor until it is officially denied. Here's a rumor the Obama camp can deny: Sen. Hillary Clinton was offered the position of secretary of state in the incoming administration only to make way for Caroline Kennedy to enter the U.S. Senate.

True or not, Caroline Kennedy's move, if successful, could checkmate the presidential ambitions of Clinton in 2012, by which time the Kennedy scion, flaunting her eight senatorial years, will be in a position to challenge the apparent frontrunner (again) for the party's nomination.

The Clintons seem to have walked into the trap with their eyes wide shut.

The moment the charismatic Kennedy threw her support behind Obama during the primaries, it was clear that there was a greater game plan - not only to defeat Hillary Clinton's nomination bid, but also to take back the Democratic Party from the Clintons. And this calls for a concerted effort to create an alternate power center beyond Obama's eight years. What better way than to promote a candidate who probably has the best dynastic claim to the office of the president?

The contrived comparisons of the Obama White House with the Camelot, and periodic talk of the so-called passing of the torch (the latest by Ethel Kennedy) are probably carefully orchestrated efforts to bring back the Kennedy mystique rather than paying a well-deserved tribute to the Obamas.

It is quite possible that since the Kerry defeat in 2004, the Obama insurgency was encouraged, if not orchestrated, by Sen. Edward Kennedy in a bid to return the party to the New England Establishment. Once virtually the property of the Kennedys, the party slipped out of their hands after the two Kennedy brothers were assassinated and it was usurped by a succession of southern Democrats - Johnson, Carter and Clinton.

It will make riveting theater to see how the Clintons respond. Will they try to nip the challenge in the bud by openly thwarting Caroline Kennedy's bid, or will they prefer a war of attrition -- by banking on Clinton's ability to make the most of her new position to consolidate her credentials for the next run for the presidency, and patiently wait for Obama to gain enough confidence to demonstrate that his presidency is not the largess of the Kennedys.

There is no doubt that it is a Catch-22 situation for Hillary Clinton. More than the need to remain in center stage to maintain her political solvency, Clinton may have accepted the State Department position to show that she's in the Obama camp. That is the only way she can ever hope to regain the support of the black community, without which she has no a political future within the Democratic Party.

She is also taking a great chance by accepting a position in the administration because there is great potential for a policy or a personal conflict with President Obama, which might culminate in her exit from office with no legislative or official platform to fall back on (with the elevation of Susan Rice, Obama's nominee for U.S. ambassador to the U.N., to the cabinet - seen even by many Democrats as a move to keep Clinton in check - one can rate the chances of a Clinton-Obama fallout as pretty high).

But with a younger Caroline Kennedy in the Senate, close on her heels in competition for public attention and affection, Clinton will have an even more treacherous terrain to traverse on the way to the White House.

With the stage being cleared for the launch a new power struggle in the Democratic Party, President Obama also risks a deeply divided party well ahead of his term or terms. How it will play out on a Capitol controlled by the Democrats remains to be seen. Right now, only the Republicans can take heart from these developments.

If the Democrats send Caroline Kennedy to the Senate, the GOP will have an easier time sending Jeb Bush to keep her company. Talk about heir apparents.

Sunil Adam is the editor of "The Indian American," a general-interest magazine published from New York. He can be reached at