The Third Person in Barack and Hillary’s Relationship

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By Ramesh Ponnuru and Margaret Carlson

This is part of a continuing dialogue between Margaret Carlson and Ramesh Ponnuru about Washington politics.

Ramesh: President Barack Obama is “going to miss” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and wants the country “to appreciate her.” Clinton is “grateful” for Obama’s “hard questions” and “thoughtful analysis.” These were among the revelations in Steve Kroft's interview of the two officials on CBS's "60 Minutes." And much, much more in the same vein. He is “pretty persuasive,” she said. She is an “extraordinary talent,” he said.

Kroft asked a few questions about the issues in the second half of the 30-minute interview, but follow-ups were not on the agenda. The president touted Libya and Egypt as places where his policies had made a difference; how that difference advanced U.S. interests went unasked and unanswered.

Clinton skated free, too. We saw the much-aired clip from last week’s hearings one more time: The one where in the same breath she yelled that it made no difference now why four Americans died in Benghazi and that we had to figure out what happened. Then why was the administration so insistent for so long that the attack was a spontaneous reaction to an anti-Islam video? And at what point did it realize this claim was false? These questions weren’t explored. The president and the secretary did, however, share with us platitudes about how the world is a dangerous place.

There was one poignant moment. At one point Clinton confirmed something most of us have always suspected. “I think spouses take it much harder” than candidates, she said of political campaigns. Her husband would be relaxed during his own debates -- but then “this calm, cool guy who never was upset at anything was watching me.” It’s all very understandable. But I couldn’t help thinking that maybe Bill was more relaxed during his presidential campaigns than during hers because he was winning his.

(Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him in Twitter.)

Margaret: Thanks for throwing me that nice softball about Bill and Hill, Ramesh. He should be plenty relaxed in 2016.

And how relaxing was that interview? What a series of softballs. I remember when the scariest words in TV journalism were, "I'm from '60 Minutes,' and I'm here to interview you."

But as Senate and House Republicans found out last week, it's not that easy to scare Hillary Clinton. The Benghazi hearings were the last chance to ding her before Saint Hillary sails off to a rosy future with a 69 percent approval rating. It's hard to say which questioner looked the worst, but I'd probably choose Republican Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, who said he would have fired her had he been president. The thought that he might ever be president set off a shudder around the world.

Watching Obama and Clinton was a new experience. How few times they've actually been together, her so peripatetic, him busy being him. Still, who would have thought it? Not me as I covered that searing primary five years ago and saw that seething rivalry. Obama's no Lincoln, as Republicans like to remind us every chance they get. Let's give him four out of five stovepipe hats for ignoring the near-unanimous advice not to name Clinton his secretary of state.

And was there anyone watching Sunday who didn't think back to that other joint interview Hillary gave Steve Kroft on "60 Minutes," 21 years ago, with her husband Bill? Then the subject was Gennifer Flowers and the state of their marriage. She famously said she wasn't just "standing by my man." But stand she did.

Maybe that explains Obama's choice. The president knew that if Hillary could remain standing after all her husband put her through, she was the woman for him.

(Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow her on Twitter.)

Read more breaking commentary from Bloomberg View at the Ticker.

-0- Jan/28/2013 03:24 GMT