If you can, watch Senator Clinton introduce Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern and listen to Mr. Stern's comments. If you cannot watch and listen, read the remarks. This is the third special envoy appointed to the State Department I count in the past four days, and in some ways the most telling one. To have an envoy on climate change in itself is remarkable, a real turn around from the Bush administration's see no science, hear no science, make no science approach. To place this envoy within State is scientifically, diplomatically, and politically insightful. Climate and climate change does not respect national boundaries (scientific fact), but nations must work together to care for the climate and address climate change (diplomatic reality). But putting this envoy under Secretary Clinton's auspices suggests an emerging political phenomenon: a real partnership between President Obama and Secretary Clinton. Adopting a scientific and pragmatic approach to climate change was something both Obama and Clinton campaigned on. But there are various departments within the executive branch where a high level special position dedicated to the position could be created. Casting the position as a State Department Special Envoy shows real smarts, presumably attributable to both the President and the Secretary of State (and their advisers). It takes advantage of the double world-world wattage (green-powered) of these two remarkable politicians. It suggests a degree of trust between the President and Secretary of State: he is confident enough to give her control over nontraditional terrain for the State Department; she is confident enough that she's not worried about being scapegoated with unaddressable problems. Pay close attention to this passage from Stern's acceptance remarks:
"I deeply appreciate the confidence that President Obama and Secretary Clinton have shown me. And I am excited by the opportunity to work for two such inspiring leaders who recognize the enormity of this problem and are deeply committed to solving it. And I – let me also say that 12 years ago, I worked for two other great and inspiring leaders, Bill Clinton and Al Gore, and it was a great privilege for me to do that. And it’s a great privilege for me now to work – be able to work for President Obama and Secretary Clinton.
People may have forgotten this, but especially during President Bill Clinton's first term, he had a unique relationship with Vice-President Gore, giving Gore control over a number of projects and issues of major importance, and in which Gore had relevant expertise. In that partnership, President Clinton took more of the initiative on external and international affairs and Vice-President Gore led the way on some prominent internal reforms. What was unusual, though, was the the genuine cooperation that marked the pair's working relationship.
I find it notable that Stern invokes working for the Bill Clinton-Al Gore pair as he undertakes working for the Barack Obama-Hillary Rodham Clinton one. Whichever of these politicians appeals more to you ( to some, Obama appeals not at all; to others, Hillary Rodham Clinton does not), both are now serving in two of the highest offices in the land. The land is mighty troubled right now. If these early signs bode well for a productive partnership of historic proportions, this bodes well for us all.
To come: some posts on relationships between Presidents and Secretaries of State past.