WASHINGTON -- President-elect Barack Obama dramatically starts to define his presidency with the selection today of his former rival Sen. Hillary Clinton to be his secretary of state.
As Chicagoans may know of the great architect who influenced the planning of their city, it was Daniel Burnham who said, "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood." For Obama to be the fifth face on Mt. Rushmore or to have a monument built on the National Mall dedicated to him, his presidency has to be more than just the historic election of the first African American to the White House. Moreover, the times we are living in -- the collapse of the economy, two wars, the ongoing terrorist threats underscored by the attacks in India -- demand an ambitious Obama agenda.
Obama will unveil Clinton and the rest of his national security team at a press conference in Chicago this morning, with the Clinton appointment -- no surprise -- getting much of the attention. Let's be clear, Obama is not picking Clinton to sideline a onetime rival; that's just ridiculous. With his sweeping victory, Obama is too confident for that.
What Obama -- always with an eye toward "the story" and the narrative -- is doing when he picks Clinton is continuing the "only in America" storyline that hopefully will improve the U.S. international image: The superstar pick brings into his administration his superstar rival. Where else in the world does that happen? Nowhere.
The appointment is "brilliant, bold and brave," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), a friend of Clinton's. It sends the message that Obama wants to form a government including the "best people, the best ideas and the best solutions."
As a secretary of state, Clinton brings to the Obama White House a commodity known to international leaders (some who had been rooting for her to win because they just did not know Obama). She already has ongoing relations with many leaders in the world.
She will have instant credibility and respect wherever she goes. She is viewed -- as is Obama -- as an internationalist who believes in diplomacy and an overwhelmingly welcome contrast to President Bush.
She hits the ground running, and that is good -- for Obama, the nation and the world.
It's not hard to understand why Clinton is taking the job. Her future in the Senate was uncertain, even if her colleagues were willing to create some sort of makeshift leadership role. She could be years away from holding real power.
She is aware that in joining the Obama administration, she adds to the historic nature of her own career and will be able to build her own legacy as first lady, senator, presidential candidate and now secretary of state.
Remember New Hampshire, when Clinton said, "I found my own voice?" Now her voice will be speaking Obama's policy, subordinate to the commander in chief.
"It says a lot about both of them," said Lanny Davis, a Clinton friend and former counsel in the Bill Clinton White House, "that he asked and she agreed."
And it only helps Obama that Bill Clinton remains beloved around the world.
It's understood now that the slate is wiped clean. The campaign rhetoric about judgment and who is ready to take that 3 a.m. call is over. The point going forward is to be effective. Diplomacy -- not politics -- will define their future.