Soap opera producer Colleen Bell might have been excused if she thought she didn’t need to know much about the finer points of diplomacy in Hungary, the country to which she’ll soon be dispatched as U.S. ambassador, compliments of President Obama. He chose her for the prestigious position not because she trained as a diplomat—she didn’t—but because she bundled $500,000-plus for him in 2012.
During her confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, Sen. John McCain, asked the producer/writer for The Bold and the Beautiful, “What are our strategic interests in Hungary?”
The question prompted the following exchange, as reported by the Washington Post’s Al Kamen:
“'Well, we have,’ Bell said, 'our strategic interests, in terms of what are our key priorities in Hungary, I think our key priorities are to improve upon, as I mentioned, the security relationship and also the law enforcement and to promote business opportunities, increase trade…’ McCain interrupted: 'I’d like to ask again what our strategic interests in Hungary are.’
“'Our strategic interests are to work collaboratively as NATO allies,” she said, 'to work to promote and protect the security, both—for both countries and for—and for the world, to continue working together on the cause of human rights around the world, to build that side of our relationship while also maintaining and pursuing some difficult conversations that might be necessary in the coming years.’
“'Great answer,’ McCain said, dripping scorn.”
Embarrassing, yes, but on that day before the Foreign Relations Committee, Bell sounded like George F. Kennan compared to fellow nominee Montana Senator Max Baucus who is leaving the senate to become Obama’s ambassador to China. Asked by Sen. Ron Johnson what has “motivat[ed] China to “initiate” an air defense notification zone, Baucus replied, “I’m no real expert on China.” (I guess he gets points for being honest.)
Yet the statement Colleen Bell read as she was introduced to the committee is perfectly lucid—evidence, perhaps, that she had some help in composing it so that it covered all the bases. But she didn’t completely absorb its main points before appearing before a committee that has not only friendly democrats (Dick Durbin, Barbara Boxer, for example) but republicans as well. That includes some, like John McCain, who have been vocal opponents of the President’s foreign policy.
Would McCain, had he won in 2008, selected bundlers as ambassadors? Probably, if recent history is any guide—Republicans and Democrats tend to appoint approximately two-thirds foreign service-trained professionals, and about a third money-raisers and cronies.
Mark Gilbert, the former White Sox player turned political bundler, will get his 15-plus minutes before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 13.
Bell awaits confirmation, but it is surely coming. Gilbert could fumble most questions next week, but so long as he gets his name and his post right, if history is any guide, he too will almost certainly be confirmed.