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By Anonymous Mike, pseudonymously.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Team of Rivals

I knew I should have sworn off cable news, but just when I thought I was out....

One of the current spins surrounding the possible nomination of Senator Clinton to be Secretary of State is "Team of Rivals." This is a direct references to the recent Doris Kearns Goodwin's book of the same title which dealt with President Lincoln's incorporation into the cabinet of his rivals for the 1860 Republican nomination.

The common theme between 1860 and 2008 is supposedly that a little presidential diplomacy is necessary to strengthen intra-party coalitions. Leave aside that essentially diplomacy is saying "nice doggy" until you find a rock (France is still looking for one); there are things which don't match up.

Let's start with the fact that between his election and inauguration, Lincoln watched the country break apart and slide toward war; times were tough and the last thing Lincoln and the Republicans needed were intra-party disputes. Second at the time of Lincoln's inauguration, the last three presidents had failed to secure their party's nomination. Third, Lincoln's position within the Republican Party, while a successful nominee, wasn't as the consensus candidate entering his convention and instead depended on his four rivals (the four he brought into the cabinet) beating on each other during the first ballot.

Which of these factors is similar to what Obama is facing tofay? A secession crisis sliding into civil war? Previous presidents unable to achieve renomination let alone re-election? Shaky nomination? Maybe that but how much did that come up in October? A Clinto appoitnement would at best a calculated risk to defang any potential rival for a contested nomination for 2012, by brining her into the cabinet it would either make her a team player or tar her with the indelible brush of Obama.

However there are dangers to the strategy. Let's look at Lincoln's rivals:

Senator Cameron and Representative Bates tenure in the cabinet had both headed to oblivion; the former due to corruption scandals in the War Department which resulted in his resignation and the latter became irrelevant due to the demands of the war.

Salmon Chase was appointed to the Treasury and from there never shed his ambotion to replace Lincoln for the 1864 election and constantly schemed. In fact only his indispenability in maintaining the nation's finances during the Civil War kept from his being purged earlier than he was.

The only high note in all of this was William Seward who was appointed as Scretary of State but who early on tried to usurp Lincoln's authority by becoming de facto prime minsiter of the administration. He later formed a fast friendship with Lincoln, becoming his loyal confidant, largely based on his admiration of skills as a war leader.

So the historical precedent that people want Obama to follow in appointing Clinton as Secretary of State rests on the results of Lincoln following a similar path in that of the four rivals he selected: one was cashiered for corruption, one tried to constantly submarine his administration, one became a historical non-entity, and the best one also tried to undermine but later came to admire his abilities in leading the most murderous war this country ever fought.

Yeah a perfect parallel for Obama to follow. Taking bitter rivals into your cabinet is a last resort, not a first option.

What do I think will happen? Obama will learn from his mistake about the vice presidency and lead Clinton on about her being a serious candidate for Secretary of State in order to show her supporters that he is treating her with respect. Meanwhile he'll find reason to scuttle the proposed nomination, through proxies of course, due to her husband's various business dealings