Biden should promise to make Obama secretary of state

The once and future team?

The once and future team?

I’ve had this idea kicking around in my head for weeks now, and I’ve been waiting to have time to present it thoughtfully, with extensive, carefully constructed arguments that will be perfectly unassailable, and I finally decided I’m not going to have time for all that stuff.

So here goes.

Joe Biden should promise to name Barack Obama as his secretary of state. Assuming he can talk his old boss into it. And assuming his old boss can talk Michelle into it, which could prove to be a bridge too far. But it’s worth trying (assuming it’s constitutional, which I think it is), for a number of reasons.

Joe’s campaign is all about restoring sanity in the White House — or saving the nation’s soul, as the former veep likes to put it. Just today, I was listening to an interview with him on NPR. Don’t be put off by the headline, which is “‘Details Are Irrelevant’: Biden Says Verbal Slip-Ups Don’t Undermine His Judgment.” It actually contains substance, rather than just more pointless yammering about trivial mistakes made now and then by a guy who talks all day. (I’m convinced that if the media adopted the same attitude toward other candidates — We’ve gotta watch him like a hawk to catch him sounding senile — they’d succeed in coming up with similar “proof” of the hypothesis.)

And one of the points of substance is about the heavy lifting that the next president will have to do to repair our relations with the rest of the world, restoring America’s status as a country that other countries — friends and foes — can respect.

“The next president is going to have to pull the world back together,” Biden asserts in the interview. And he’s right.

It’s hard to imagine a gesture that could more convincingly persuade foreign leaders of his seriousness and good faith on that point than to make the last president the world could respect his point man in dealing with the rest of the globe.

I find it hard to think of another living human being who could restore our nation’s dignity on the world stage as well as Barack Obama. And Obama could, by accepting the post, perform a more direct and dramatic service to the country in his post-presidential life than any president since John Quincy Adams served in the U.S. House after 1828. He would make a real difference in the world.

Not to mention how such a promise would make Biden more likely to be in a position to keep it. Some of his Democratic rivals have dared to quibble with the Obama-Biden legacy. But it would be really hard for them to make a winning case against an actual reunion of the party’s last winning team.

And no, it’s not the same as asking Obama to be his running mate. It’s far more substantial than that. I see it as being like the relationship between Lincoln and Seward. Seward was such a respected figure that when he was named secretary of state, many people mistakenly assumed he’d be the real president and country-bumpkin Lincoln would be a figurehead.

Obviously that didn’t happen, but nevertheless Seward was Lincoln’s right-hand man, a partner with real political juice of his own, helping our greatest president guide the country through its greatest crisis.

I think the prospect of Obama being secretary of state would change the whole tenor of the campaign from here on out.

And it would prove to be a very, very good thing not only for the country, but for the whole world…

47 thoughts on “Biden should promise to make Obama secretary of state

  1. bud

    Cabinet Secretaries are part of the succession to the presidency. Not sure why that would rule him out somehow. Wouldn’t think so. I’m sure President Warren will be on top of that. 🙂 I wonder if Obama could serve as VP under constitutional rules. He just couldn’t ascend to the Presidency if something happens to POTUS.

    1. Bryan Caskey

      Obama can’t be VP.

      “no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.” (12th Amendment, US Constitution).

      He’s eligible to take any Federal office other than POTUS OR VPOTUS.

  2. bud

    And Obama could, by accepting the post, perform a more direct and dramatic service to the country in his post-presidential life than any president since John Quincy Adams served in the U.S. House after 1828. He would make a real difference in the world.

    Don’t forget Taft. He was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court after serving as POTUS.

  3. Bryan Caskey

    An interesting idea. I think John Quincy Adams was the only President to have a significant post-presidency. Not sure how the dynamic of a former president serving under a former subordinate would go. I doubt Obama would agree to that.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’m sort of banking on Obama, still being a relatively young man, not wanting his useful life to be over. He could really, really make a difference. Sure, he’s made his mark on the world. A big one. But he’s got the potential to do more…

    2. Doug Ross

      I think it sends a message to voters that Biden believes he can’t run the country. The dynamics of that arrangement would provide a field day for the press. Does Biden become George W. Bush — taking orders from Obama on America’s foreign policy? Does Obama give in to Biden’s foreign policy goals (especially if they differ from his own)? What happens the first time they disagree? Remember Joe said “no go” on killing Osama bin Laden (although he has changed his story since then).

      Plus, cynically, there’s no way Obama is going to take a massive pay cut now. He’s looking at making literally tens of millions of dollars in the next few years. I’m guessing that’s all lined up now for him – speaking engagements, board memberships, TV and book deals for himself and Michelle.

      I think it would be better for Biden to name a VP now (or at least a short list). Someone younger, demographically attractive (Booker or a female). There’s a reason Biden has failed twice before in his run for President — he doesn’t come across as a leader. Saying “Help me, Obama!” reinforces that perception.

      1. Dave Crockett

        Red letter day! I agree with Doug completely on something!

        I think Obama would make a great Secretary of State, but Doug’s assessment of the realities (of Obama’s personal direction for the next few years) and the perceptions (of the relationship between Biden and Obama) are significant. And a smart VP selection, especially of a woman, would be a greater benefit to Biden IMHO.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Ah, but see, I’m thinking about more than political advantage (although I’m thinking of that, too). I’m thinking about substance. I’m thinking about the hard work of repairing our relations with the rest of the world, and the kind of extraordinary individual we will need to lead that.

          Whereas whether he picks a man or a woman or a minority or whatever as running mate is of zero practical importance going forward.

          Trump has eviscerated the State Department. We need an inspirational figure to build it back…

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        I don’t think Joe would worry much about being overshadowed by Obama. I think Joe is past needing the strokes to his ego that motivates so many candidates for president.

        The thing about Joe is, I’m utterly convinced that he is, more than anyone we may have seen in recent decades or our lifetimes, motivated by the fact that the country needs him to run. Because there’s no one else with his qualifications willing to do it.

        Having been through a campaign myself, and having seen how much harder it was on the candidates than on me, and having spent a morning around Joe in the context of that campaign and seeing how hard he worked at it, I have a deeper-than-ever appreciation for a man who really doesn’t need this, but is willing to take it on.

        This means a great deal to me, and it’s a large part of why I am a loyal supporter of this man. I feel indebted to him for doing this…

        1. Doug Ross

          “I don’t think Joe would worry much about being overshadowed by Obama.”

          Well, that’s probably the worst thing someone might say who is running for President. “I’m better than Trump but not as good as Obama”. If you don’t think you’re a better leader than Obama was (not a high bar), drop out now.

          He’s supposed to be the leader, not the cheerleader.

  4. Doug Ross

    If we could only go back to the heyday of 2016! When life was beautiful, there was no racism, no gun violence, no war, no economic inequality.. when things were so good that Obama’s stellar legacy and leadership resulted in a landslide victory for his former Secretary of State.

    Isn’t it odd that Obama HASN’T endorsed Biden yet? Sure, he can play along with the party.. but if Biden was good enough to be next-in-line three years ago, why wouldn’t Obama say that he’s the only man for the job now?

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      No, it’s not odd. It’s pretty standard not to take sides in a primary.

      And if Joe DID reach out to him to be secstate, that consideration would likely stand in the way. He might say, “OK, but don’t announce it until you’re the nominee.” Which means it wouldn’t help Joe through the primaries.

      But hey, I’m putting the idea out there, whether it’s likely to happen or not. It’s what SHOULD happen…

      1. Doug Ross

        ” It’s pretty standard not to take sides in a primary”

        Apparently Obama isn’t concerned that the very future of the country is at stake. Party before country.

  5. bud

    Doug is mostly right on this. Any announcement of a cabinet post, especially, Obama while the campaign is still in doubt comes across as gimicky. Not a good look. Right now Biden is a modest favorite to be the Democratic nominee. Why would he risk that position with something as obviously pandering as this? Once the Democratic nominee is settled, hopefully Elizabeth Warren or Corey Booker, then perhaps something like this would make a bit of sense. But until then it’s a bad idea.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Well, it’s a good idea if JOE does it. But if he isn’t the nominee, we’ll have so many other problems that there’s little point in talking further about this proposal…

      1. Doug Ross

        I think you’re seeing the handwriting on the wall for Joe and trying to come up with ways to save his nomination. So far, Joe being Joe isn’t setting the world on fire. Yesterday, some of his campaign staff started leaking the news that Joe isn’t expecting to win in Iowa or NH… that he’s focusing on Super Tuesday.

        If he isn’t in the top 3 in Iowa or NH, will he be able to overcome the spin from the media and the other campaigns? Hillary won Iowa barely over Sanders. Sanders may lose votes to Warren and Yang… but he’s not losing any to Joe. Joe will lose Hillary voters to Warren, Harris, Booker, Beto, Buttigieg, et al. A 4th or worse result for Biden is in the cards.

        Bernie beat Hillary 60-37 in NH. Again, Bernie may lose half his support and he’s still at 30. Warren will get her own 25-30 as a semi-local. Joe will be fighting a bunch of others over 40-45%. Even if Harris, Booker, Buttigieg, Beto, Yang get only 3-5% each, that leaves 20-25% for Joe. Third place at best.

        Is Joe 100% sure he can win Super Tuesday states if Warren and Sanders are taking 50% or more of the votes off the top?

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          “I think you’re seeing the handwriting on the wall for Joe and trying to come up with ways to save his nomination.”

          Good Lord, Doug. What IS it with you and the unrelenting negativity and contrarianism?

          OK, you want to talk “handwriting?” I’ll tell you what poses the greatest risk to Joe and his getting the nomination. It’s this: I worry about what happens when some of the lefty candidates drop out. For instance, what about when they no longer have a choice between Warren and Sanders.

          If you’re the sort of “Democrat” — and I’m using the word loosely — who is so far gone that you think it would be nifty for Bernie Sanders to be President of the United States, then if Bernie drops out, your second choice is not likely to be the one sensible, experienced, mainstream candidate in the race. You’re more likely to go for Warren.

          (The thing that ENCOURAGES me on that score is that I think those two are the two least likely to drop out until way past the point that everyone else has decided they’ve lost. The longer both stay in, the better for Joe, and the better for the country.)

          To a lesser extent, the same dynamic would likely be at work with the Identity Politics people who won’t support a white guy, and the people who actually think Buttigieg talking about how he wasn’t born yet when X happened five minutes ago is an ASSET to his campaign rather than a liability. If their preferred woman or minority or extremely young person drops out, their votes are unlikely to go to Joe.

          THAT’S what I worry about. If there is “handwriting on the wall,” that’s the handwriting.

          All the other alleged problems Joe supposedly has are just a bunch of nothing, compared to the nightmare of all the anti-Establishment voters lining up behind a single alternative to Joe.

          So I hope that by the time the field gets that narrow, supporters of those candidates will have sobered up and realized the critical importance of defeating Donald Trump…

        2. Brad Warthen Post author

          Oh, and Bernie beat Hillary in NH because he’s FROM NH. Or from that other state next door that I and many people tend to confuse with NH.

          It’s almost, but not quite, the same as Jed Bartlet’s problem in NH. Since he was from there, and his family basically founded the state, as Leo put it, his campaign pulled out of NH and moved to South Carolina — because he couldn’t win in NH; he could only get embarrassed if he didn’t win by enough

          1. Doug Ross

            I’m not contrarian or negative at all (on this). I just don’t see Biden winning — and I am fine with any number of other Democrats taking his place (except Warren). I am only contrarian to your “It’s Joe or No Go” pitch. I’m showing you the numbers that will likely mean he loses the first two primary states badly. That;s not good in this day and age.

            Warren and Bernie will be in it all along. That means Biden will never reach 50% in any state except Delaware. He may win some, but not with a mandate… nothing close to what Hillary had. And the optics of that are a tough sell in the general election. People aren’t as likely to get out to vote for their second or third or worse choice. It’s just the reality of the world.

  6. Mark Stewart

    The worst part of Obama’s years as President – though I should probably put “worst” in quotes after the last two years – was his relative disinterest in foreign affairs. I get that he pushed the TPP and the Iran agreement, but he never was a credible force for action – military or otherwise. So as Sec of State, it seems like he would be nothing more than a paper dragon. On the other hand, Hillary was probably at her best as Sec of State.

    I think the job for Obama ahead is on the Supreme Court. I believe his perspective, temperment, intellect and leadership would be a good fit for an eventual chief justice. We haven’t had a President in more than a century who could creditably serve is this manner. I also think it’s the one position Obama would jump at, if offered.

    1. Doug Ross

      Agree with Mark on this. Nobody thinks of Obama as a foreign policy expert. But he would make a good Supreme Court justice. Again, very unlikely due to the pay cut. You’ve got to understand, at his age he is on the path to having a $100 million net worth by the time he’s 65. And more power to him if he can do that ethically — which I would expect.

      1. Barry

        He is only 58.

        He could serve on the SCOTUS for a decade, retire, and still rack up tens of millions. He could still write a few books and make millions on the court.

      2. bud

        Obama is not so shallow that he really cares about money. Some people just don’t. Jimmy Carter for example never a huge amount of money after his days as POTUS. I doubt he has any regrets at all about that. His work building houses was reward enough.

        1. Barry

          I don’t think he cares only about money but there is nothing wrong with an ex president making a lot of money once out of office.

  7. Bryan Caskey

    Obama on the Supreme Court? Let’s see: He’s:

    1. Never had a career as a practicing lawyer to speak of;
    2. Never been on the bench as a judge in any capacity;
    3. someone who’s law license went inactive in 2007; and
    4. a polarizing political figure in American politics.

    Y’all understand that a Supreme Court Justice is, like, a real job, right? It not only requires high-level legal analysis, it requires high-level writing skills. These skills are honed over years and years. Even assuming that he’s somehow going to overcome not being a lawyer or a judge since like…ever, then he’d have a huge problem being persuasive to other Justices and being taken as objective. He’s taken way too many political positions on too many issues to be able to be perceived as an objective jurist.

    He would also hate the job. There’s no glory in it. There are no speeches. He wouldn’t get to have his lofty oratory, and he wouldn’t get to hear people applaud the sound of his voice. After being acclaimed as President and giving speeches to adoring masses for eight years, he would absolutely hate the relative obscurity of the cloisters of the Supreme Court.

    Y’all are hilarious. Obama as a Supreme Court Justice…lol.

    1. bud

      After the utter horror of Antonin Scalia Obama would be a breath of fresh air. One of the very worst supreme court justices in American History.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        I would encourage you to read Justice’s Ginsburg’s foreward to the book, Scalia Speaks. I had to go fetch it from my bookshelf and re-read it just now, but I found a .PDF of it here. It’s only about a page and a half.

        Again, take it for what you will, but I would encourage you to read it.

      2. Brad Warthen Post author

        “utter horror?”

        This is what we’ve come to. People acting as though if another person disagrees with them, it’s as though baby-raping Huns are slashing and burning their way through the peaceful village.

        Scalia was a highly intelligent, qualified jurist with whom you have some disagreements. That’s about it…

        1. bud

          Yep, utter horror is about right.

          Brad you have exactly zero credibility making this statement. You don’t agree with Bernie Sander so you call him a mad man or crazy or some other ad hominem insult. You routinely insult the president with any number of insults. And perhaps he deserves it. Fine. But to get on to someone else for expressing an opinion that you suggest is “this is what we have come to” as though you and you alone are the arbiter of who is a legitimate target of ad hominem insults is frankly laughable. So if it’s ok to call a long-serving, dedicated mayor, congressman and senator a crazy madman then I find it ok to say a supreme court justice was an utter horror.

    2. Barry

      Those 4 reasons, as a group, are even more reason to consider Obama for the SCOTUS.

      Not a practicing lawyer- good.
      Never a judge- good. Wouldn’t be the first.
      Law license not active- see above
      A polarizing figure – every nominee is now a polarizing figure. Thomas polarized the country. Bork polarized the country. Kavanaugh polarized the country. A nominee like RBG would polarize the country.

      Plus, conservatives and Fox News told us all over the last several years that presidents get to pick who they want and unless they are an obvious threat to the constitution, the president should get his choice (unless you are a democrat of course)

      1. bud

        Yep, Bryan made a pretty convincing case in favor of Obama. Especially the “polarizing figure” point. EVERYONE will be polarizing at this point. Heck I found Scalia extremely polarizing. His mean spirited attack on Justice Stephens because he (correctly) argued that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment is reason enough to banish him to the scrapheap of polarizing figures.

    3. Mark Stewart

      Bryan, I think that if Obama wanted to be a judge (and that of course is a key if) he would make a good jurist. The great thing about the Supreme Court is they get the best clerks; I think Obama could wade through the legal minutia and add a bit of reasonantcy to decisions. But thats just IMHO.

      I want to see a less polarized court. But I think we, and the Senante and its GOP advisors especially, hammer the court into appearing that way. Other than Thomas, the justices do seem to be judges first, and partisans secondarily, if that.

      BTW – Thomas only served a year as a judge prior to his nomination, and Kagan never did. Obama taught Constitutional Law at U. of Chicago for 12 years. It’s not like these kinds of issues are new to him anyway, no, being a two-term President and all?

      1. Bryan Caskey

        It would be hard for Obama to be perceived as fair and independent by a great many people on a great many issues when he’s come out and foreclosed decisions by his actions and statements. So there’s that.

        There’s also the fact that it’s sort of a demotion. Once you’re president, it’s basically the last job you have. I mean, we’re going back to John Quincy Adams for a precedent, for significant post-presidency work. I mean, we didn’t have any US States west of Iowa then. Kind of a different time.

        Obama ain’t coming back to take a day job. It’s not what two-term Presidents do.

        1. Barry

          “It would be hard for Obama to be perceived as fair and independent by a great many people ”

          welcome to the SCOTUS.

          Thomas isn’t seen as fair or independent to tens of millions of people. It’s. It is not as if he hides his bias.

          Gorsuch did not get to the court because of preeminent fairness to both sides. He got to the court because he is a reliable conservative. Millions of Americans don’t see him as fair.

          That millions wouldn’t perceive OBama as fair is par for the course for the court.

        2. Mark Stewart

          We will all just have to wonder what JFK would have done post-presidency.

          It’s a fair point, and Obama did just buy a $15 mil spread on Martha’s Vineyard. But still, he seems more vital, and curious, than to just idle away the days and years … Now W I bet is pretty happy on his TX ranch painting and being the ex president. And he has earned that.

        3. bud

          It would be hard for Obama to be perceived as fair and independent by a great many people on a great many issues when he’s come out and foreclosed decisions by his actions and statements.

          Come on Bryan are you really going to argue perception? That ship sailed a looong time ago but with Brett Kavanaugh it is an utter non starter.

  8. Bryan Caskey

    Also, as Secretary of State, I know that Brad thinks this is a super idea, and I certainly wouldn’t dain to attempt to persuade otherwise, I would perhaps note that not everyone thinks Obama’s foreign policy was super wonderful.

    For example, Jimmy Mattis isn’t a big fan. He even wrote a little about it.

    1. bud

      So I hope that by the time the field gets that narrow, supporters of those candidates will have sobered up and realized the critical importance of defeating Donald Trump…

      This is important. Everyone take a good, hard look at this statement and understand something very important. Brad doesn’t know what the hell he’s talking about. Period. There is no compelling reason to suggest Biden is the only, or even the best, candidate who can beat Trump. Brad makes this ridiculous claim as though it is and article of faith. But it is BS. IT JUST IS. So do be swayed by claims of this type from Brad or the Biden campaign. Biden brings loads of baggage to the campaign just like Hillary did. If we’re going to have a fact based discussion let’s get rid of nonsense like this. It is a disservice to this blog to continue with these rants.

      So what are the facts? First, Biden does have his strengths. He does well with black voters and the tiny handful of white, blue collar voters who were normally Democrats that did vote for Trump. That is his strength and apparently the ONLY voters who Brad seems to acknowledge. But Biden also has significant weaknesses. HE JUST DOES. Biden is very unpopular with a large swath of liberal voters like me. I just don’t like him. And many, perhaps millions of these voters will NOT vote for Biden. They just won’t. We have a great fear that he will return to his cold war roots and get us into some new military incursion. For all the negative stuff about Trump at least he has largely kept us out of these disasters. When Biden talked glowingly about NATO the other day I seriously had to reconsider voting for him in the general election. We just don’t need this anachronistic way of thinking. Once people figure that out Biden will be in trouble.

      So what does the polling tell us? There are not many polls comparing Trump with the various Democrats. But for those few, for the most part Biden does better than the other candidates against Trump. But just drill down a bit and it’s obvious that Trump’s numbers are almost identical to any of the Democrats. What is different is the support for the Democrats. That is entirely the result of name recognition. The bottom line is that all Democrats will beat Trump with a poor economy. A good economy is dicey for everyone.

      The bottom line is this. Biden will make a poor president for any number of reasons. The ONLY reason to consider him is because he is regarded as the most likely to beat Trump. I find that reason bogus. So don’t believe the Biden campaign on this.

    2. bud

      Mattis is a hawk so if you buy into that hawkish mentality then I suppose his opinion carries weight. As for me, not so much.

  9. Doug Ross

    So tonight Joe Biden started bleeding from his eye on national television during the climate debate. Remember when Hillary passed out on the campaign trail? This is worst “optically”. He hasn’t had a good day yet in this campaign. Abandon ship!

  10. Karen Pearson

    I think that if Mr. Biden is nominated, he should consider someone like Mr. Buttigieg or possibly Ms. Warren for his running mate. It would discourage those on the far right from shooting him if nothing else. I’d love to see Mr. Obama on the supreme court, and I suspect he would be a lot more neutral than many would expect; however, I don’t thing he would be acceptable to the the more “conservative” among us. Ms. Clinton would be an acceptable Sec. of State, or possibly Gen. Powell if he is in good shape and willing. I just want to see someone who is well versed in foreign affairs (and well versed doesn’t mean he/she has to agree with you, Brad).

  11. Doug Ross

    Well, we definitely don’t want Obama to be Secretary of Education.. according to the Wall Street Journal editorial board:

    From Yahoo if you don’t have a WSJ subscription:

    The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board (WSJ) recently suggested that the Obama administration pulled off “the biggest accounting fraud in history” with student loans when eliminating the role of private lenders in the federal student lending market.

    In 2010, Democrats “nationalized the market to help pay for Obama Care,” WSJ asserted. “The Congressional Budget Office at the time forecast that eliminating private lenders would save taxpayers $58 billion over 10 years. This estimate was pure fantasy, and now we’re seeing how much.”

    The WSJ op-ed also highlighted the rising number of severely delinquent student loans since then and blamed the Obama administration for expanding plans in 2012 for new borrowers “to reduce defaults, buy off millennial voters and disguise the cost of its student-loan takeover.”

    The editorial board then added: “This may be the biggest accounting fraud in history.”

    WSJ argued that eliminating private lenders from the student loan market severely hurt Americans and that by using fair-market accounting, it becomes clear that student loans will actually cost taxpayers nearly $307 billion over the next 10 years.

    Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) during the George W. Bush administration and currently president of the center-right American Action Forum, agreed that the accounting discrepancy manifested because of the “technique” used by the CBO to evaluate the cost of these loan programs.

    “A widely known deficiency of the Federal Credit and Reform Act is that it does not allow the CBO to incorporate [market risk] into assessments,” Holtz-Eakin told Yahoo Finance. “So the loans, when they’re evaluated are evaluated as safer than they truly are, and thus, the losses are smaller than they may truly be. And there’s no way around that — the techniques force you to do that.” He added that “that’s why when you when they switched from the private loans to the government loans, it appeared to save money… that is misleading. I don’t disagree, but it’s not the CBO’s fault — those are the rules.”

    Sheila Bair, the chair of the U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) from 2006 to 2011, agreed that the WSJ was “right to call out the government” on the accounting issue and stressed that it is “a huge problem with federal budgeting and transparency generally.”


    This is why I never believe any prediction the Congressional Budget Office puts out. They make 10 year projections and nobody ever checks to see how accurate they were.

    So when you complain about student loan debt, stop blaming banks and put the blame where it belongs: on the federal government – specifically the Obama administration.

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