Should Obama choose Hillary?

So everybody is wondering whether Obama will choose Hillary to be his Secretary of State.

I’ve been thinking that he might do that ever since I heard Obama speak, during the primaries, about Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln shrewdly, wisely, disarmingly followed the advice to “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. He brought his harshest political rivals into his cabinet, where he could watch them and where their interests were aligned with his. “Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”, he once said.

Naturally, Obama’s way of thinking immediately resonates with mine in at least one way: He instinctively looks to history for lessons and guidance in the here and now. I instinctively do the same. It is the premise of my book.

Taizu, the first emperor of the Song dynasty

Taizu, the first emperor of the Song dynasty

So here is another story from history that Obama might like. The first emperor of China’s Song dynasty was fighting against a rival, King Liu, to consolidate his rule. Song won and brought Liu to his court, where he offered him a glass of wine. Liu assumed that Song was about to kill him, with poisoned wine, and begged for mercy. Instead, Song laughed, took the glass and drank it himself. Then he made Liu a high-ranking adviser at his court. Liu would be one of the most loyal servants in Song’s retinue.

A while later, Song defeated another king. Song’s ministers lobbied to have this king killed or locked up, presenting reams of documentary proof that he was plotting to kill the Song emperor. The emperor had him brought before him. Then he promoted the man, appointed him to high rank, and sent him home with a package to be opened later. When the man did open it, he found all the documents proving his plot to have the emperor killed. He also became one of the emperor’s most loyal servants.

The benefits of this sort of thing are clear: If your enemies are at large (as Hillary would be in the Senate), they can cause mischief and plot revenge. Their success is your failure, your success their failure. But by bringing them close and aligning their success and failure with yours, you disarm them. Bonus: Because everybody knows that they are former enemies, they must forever work harder than the others to earn their trust.

Wild cards: None of Lincoln’s or the Song emperor’s enemies had a spouse such as Bill. And Bill would still be at large. Oh boy.


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More on parents and success

Thanks to Freda Zietlow for pointing me to this piece in the Wall Street Journal on the dysfunctional families of future presidents.

As you guys already know, in one chapter of my book I’m looking into the subtle and unsubtle ways that parents influence the future success and failure of their children. Hamilcar played a huge role in the life of his son Hannibal (my main character), and not just while Hamilcar was alive.

Now, the Journal‘s Sue Shellenbarger has this to say about US presidents and their parents:

The families that have produced U.S. presidents … show a striking tendency to be deeply flawed. The childhoods of past presidents have been marked to an unusual degree by absent fathers, mothers so overinvolved that they could easily have been the original helicopter parents, and in some cases outright dysfunction…

Childhood events that would destroy most children seem somehow to spark greatness in leaders-to-be, says Doug Wead, author of two books on presidents’ families. As two candidates with highly unusual family backgrounds vie for the presidency, Mr. Wead even sees Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama — to different degrees and in starkly different ways — fitting a pattern he describes as “Mama’s boys with absent fathers who were perceived by the sons as high achievers,” he says….

Some presidents’ families have been famously dysfunctional. Thomas Lincoln abandoned 9-year-old Abraham and his sister, 12, for several months in their frontier cabin right after the death of their mother, while he went to find a new wife, says Doris Kearns Goodwin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author most recently of “Team of Rivals,” a book about Lincoln. When Thomas finally returned with their new stepmother, Sarah Bush Johnston, the couple found them “wild — ragged and dirty,” seeming barely human, the stepmother later wrote…

In another notably troubled family, Bill Clinton’s father died before Bill was born; his stepfather was a womanizer and an alcoholic who beat his mother, Virginia, according to biographer David Maraniss. Although Virginia, a warm, nurturing woman, made her son the adored centerpiece of the family, President Clinton said later that he often pined for his birth father…

Even the McCain family, with its tradition of distinguished military service, fits the pattern of an absent father and an overinvolved mother who fills the gap, Mr. Wead says. Sen. McCain’s father was a respected four-star Navy admiral and commander of Pacific forces in the Vietnam war, but he was mostly absent from home during Sen. McCain’s childhood. Sen. McCain reflects pride in his father and was taught to regard his long absences “not as a deprivation, but as an honor.”…


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