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Why Kerry Shouldn't--and Won't--be Secretary Of State

Just about everybody in the other camp now concedes that Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States. But most of us don't have to concede anything: we'd felt it in our bones from the beginning.

Many political people are so certain, in fact, that they are already appointing themselves and each other to coveted posts in the Obama administration. There's no one in my circle, however, who wants to be secretary of agriculture. But there are many (really many many) who want to be secretary of state or national security adviser, although most of them have the self-discipline to curb their ambitions when talking to others. More middle level aspirants have had their appetites whetted by being appointed by Susan Rice to the vast but informal network of what Washington invariably calls task-forces. I'm told by savvy individuals there may be as many as 300 men and women disbursed around these outfits. There probably is one for the southern Pacific, and from its ranks will come the ambassador to Micronesia and Tonga, maybe in one person. These folk are really totally irrelevant to a campaign. Yet they doubtless have been writing and passing around position papers which no one of any significance will have time, patience or interest to read after the campaign has been won.

The most obvious of these supplicants is John Forbes Kerry. As he tells it (obviously not to me but to several people I deeply trust), he confronted Obama with a deal: Kerry's endorsement in exchange for his appointment as secretary of state. Obama, he tells people, took the offer. Slam dunk.

Actually, I don't believe it. Oh, I believe that Kerry put the question to him, What I don't believe is that Obama took the bait. One reason is that Obama is too savvy to designate someone whose mind is so indentured to abstractions like the United Nations and "soft power" after what the candidate has learned during the campaign about how combustible foreign affairs is. Moreover, you don't appoint a secretary of state without knowing who will be secretary of defense and national security adviser. International relations for the president is a balance among trusted heads and hands, and Obama doesn't know whose they will be. And imagine how disorienting it would be to plan your cabinet when you're still yourself from the dirt MCain has allowed his people to throw.

Choosing Kerry as secretary of state would also be political nit-wittish. He is not exactly liked by his colleagues in the Senate. That is, liked as a human being. He is a preener, and almost no one appreciates a preener. His politics are simply too left-wing for the Democratic majority which Obama will have cobbled together for his victory. Imagine starting out your term on January 20 with an appointment fight over this J.F.K.

The fact is that a campaign is a campaign. It's about positioning the candidate within the bounds of truthfulness about how he will govern. But it is not about governing. Obama has made only one decision that is about governing. It was his choice of vice president, Joe Biden, a perfect choice that also militates against John Kerry being secretary of state.