Political Animal


December 14, 2012 12:16 PM “Settling” For Kerry?

By Ed Kilgore

It’s a bit of an irony that the long-time front-runner to become Secretary of State—and actually, the front-runner for the job in 2008 had not Hillary Clinton decided to take it—John Kerry, will now be inevitably perceived as someone Obama “settled” for after Susan Rice’s withdrawal from consideration. Aside from his political prominence, and his current position as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, this is the gig his entire career seems to have pointed towards. And particularly after the Republican freakout over Rice, the odds of his fellow-senators giving him an unusually hard time in the confirmation process are low (though Wingnut World will undoubtedly be full of talk about “global tests.”)

But how good a Secretary of State would he be? In a very positive assessment today, WaPo’s David Ignatius makes this observation:

While Kerry sometimes comes across as stiff, he’s surprisingly willing to challenge conventional wisdom, especially about engaging America’s adversaries. This unlikely contrarian streak would be an advantage, especially because it’s so well disguised: With his stolid demeanor, Kerry would find it easier to take diplomatic chances than other potential nominees, especially the younger, less experienced Rice.

Now as someone who was peripherally in his orbit during the 2004 campaign, I’m not very objective about Kerry, but I must say this particular Ignatius argument comports well with my own observations. When Kerry “went to school” on a topic—I observed this first-hand on climate change—he was an absolute sponge for new information and often sought out people spurned by the “experts.” He would not, of course, be setting U.S. Foreign Policy as Secretary of State, and in fact Susan Rice could wind up with greater influence if she is moved, as is considered possible, to the White House itself. But Kerry has the tools to be an outstanding Secretary of State, and perhaps the perception that he’s someone the president “settled for” may keep him as productively busy as his predecessor.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on December 14, 2012 12:27 PM:

    Wow, who knew men could still be considered for SoS?

    And yes, Kerry's a fine choice.

    I wanted Rice to stick it out, to spite the right.

    If you want to see a Rice who was unqualified to be SoS, look at Condi, not Susan.

  • JackD on December 14, 2012 12:28 PM:

    Why does the administration want to open the senate seat in Massachusetts?

  • schtick on December 14, 2012 12:29 PM:

    Only the teapubs can support people that are not qualified for a job. See Condi Rice, Miers, and Bolton. So that means that dems can't have anyone that IS qualified. And the teapubs win again.

  • bobatkinson on December 14, 2012 12:48 PM:

    Why not Bill Clinton? Seriously. Leave Kerry in the senate.

  • T2 on December 14, 2012 12:52 PM:

    The "Obama settled" meme is just the GOP trying to make political hay on Obama.
    Kerry would be fine. Scott as a Senator would not. I'm hoping that the good people of Massachusetts have seen enough of Mr. Scott - they just had an opportunity to elect him and they did not. But by electing him once, they showed that people can be stupid. I hope there's some electable Dem ready to run against him, if Kerry leaves. I hope he stays put.

  • Ashley Whippet on December 14, 2012 1:02 PM:

    I personally like the idea of Kerry as SOS a lot more than Rice, mainly due to her deep investments in the Canadian oil industry. The Keystone pipeline decision is in better hands with Kerry.

    The only thing I don't like about Rice pulling out is it gives the impression that that dottering old fool McCain was right about her and he "won" that battle.

  • Al on December 14, 2012 1:08 PM:

    John Kerry is a failed presidential candidate who speaks French. Enough said.

  • Cornfields on December 14, 2012 1:20 PM:

    As, I guess, one of the those so-called "experts" (though not in this exact field), I have to say that you are not winning me over. You are basically describing the neo-con modus operandi, Ford administration Team B on.... whether the experts are foreign policy types, intelligence or military analysts. Our in-government experts and our bureaucrats are actually quite good (far better than the public and the elected officialdom, and certainly better than most anything coming from the think tanks).

  • Rage on December 14, 2012 1:30 PM:

    Why do people in the Media just assume that Kerry is the choice? Why would Obama risk losing a D Senate seat just to fill the Secretary of State position? I would imagine that there are many other very capable candidates out there.

  • Daryl Cobranchi on December 14, 2012 1:31 PM:

    Obama would only be handing a Senate seat to the GOP. Surely there are other good candidates available that wouldn't hurt the party.

  • Anonymous on December 14, 2012 1:48 PM:

    If David Ignatius is for it - it's got to be a stupid idea.

    Democrats would be utter fools to open up a Senate seat for no good reason. We all know that Kerry wants it - but too bad you're needed here.

    And well, I just don't buy the he'd be wonderful at it.

  • Matt on December 14, 2012 3:14 PM:

    Maybe Kerry's the best person for the job. But the nature of the job is that it can be done perfectly competently by hundreds of people. And Kerry already has a very important job. For that matter, it's not exactly like he's not involved in diplomacy already.

    Elizabeth Warren beat Scott Brown fair and square, but she did it with certain winds at her back that won't be there for the next challenger. Brown, for his part, will be a slicker candidate next time now that he's finally been tested. Kerry would beat him in a walk in 2014, so he won't even run.

    Deval Patrick, the current governor, might do okay if Kerry retired in 2014, but if Kerry left early, Patrick would have to appoint a zero-ambition seat-warmer in order to run himself in 2014, and that never goes over well.

    I just don't see the case for Kerry, in light of the costs. Not when there are so many people up to the task, all of whom could get John Kerry on the phone in thirty seconds if they needed him.

  • OKDem on December 14, 2012 4:26 PM:

    I wish to second Bill Clinton for Secretary of State! Brilliant! Make the Rethugs claim a popular former President is unqualified!

    (Of course I know they will but watching McCain pretzel logic opposing the Big Dog would deserve a 5 lb sack of popcorn.)

  • James E. Powell on December 14, 2012 5:56 PM:

    I was hoping the rumors of Kerry going to Defense were true. Because of Swiftboat Veterans for Truth and all their affiliates. But I guess that's not happening.

    My first question regarding Kerry going to State: why is any cabinet post a desirable end of career for a guy like Kerry? In my mind, the only job better than the one he already has is president. What's the appeal?

    And my only reservation is the same on everybody else has. Nobody wants to see Senator Brown back in the game.

  • 1 Percenter on December 16, 2012 7:38 PM:

    "I personally like the idea of Kerry as SOS a lot more than Rice, mainly due to her deep investments in the Canadian oil industry."

    She has Iranian investments as well. And she's worth quite a bit...

  • Tom on December 17, 2012 11:09 AM:

    There is a factual error in this commentary. Rice is more experienced than Kerry in the field of foreign policy.