President Donald Trump has just nominated former Congressman Pete Hoekstra to be ambassador to the Netherlands. The appointment should be speedily confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Hoekstra, who came to this country as a baby, was born in Holland and speaks fluent Dutch.
He’s a former chair of the House Intelligence Committee, and in every respect is as fully qualified for this job as any political appointee could be.
Ambassadors fall into two categories. Those who have come up through the ranks of the Foreign Service, and are state department experts in their field. They tend to be ambassadors in places like Paraguay. Former politicians or well-heeled campaign contributors tend to get ambassadorial appointments in more glamorous countries.
In fact, you pretty much have to be rich to be ambassador in a place like London or Paris, because the cost of necessary entertaining is usually far more than the government’s modest allocation for the purpose. Some political ambassadors have been duds. Ronald Reagan appointed the scion of a big firm ambassador to Austria, where he caused a minor scandal by distributing packets of his mother’s cosmetics at embassy functions. But many of them have been excellent.
Canadians say that former Michigan Gov. James Blanchard may have been our country’s best representative ever in Ottawa. The job of an ambassador is multi-faceted; they need to represent our nation’s policies and interests, make personal connections, and look out for the needs and interests of Americans and American business in that country.
By all those standards, I’d expect Hoekstra to do well. While it makes sense, his appointment is also clearly payback. He was an early supporter of Donald Trump, campaigned vigorously for him, and certainly helped him score his narrow victory here.
Blanchard got his appointment in similar fashion, as a reward for helping Bill Clinton’s campaign. Actually, his was a kind of consolation prize, after Clinton went back on an earlier promise to make Blanchard secretary of transportation. That’s politics.
Ironically, this appointment has something Hoekstra’s last two political campaigns lacked – a clear sense of mission, and clarity. Seven years ago, Hoekstra left Congress to attempt to win the GOP nomination for governor. But he did little to distinguish himself from the field, and finished a respectable but poor second, far behind Rick Snyder.
Two years later, he did win the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, but then ran a disastrous campaign that began with a seemingly racist commercial with a supposedly Chinese woman speaking broken English, and went downhill from there.
Hoekstra was totally unable to make a case for why the voters should send him to the Senate, and he ended up losing by almost a million votes.
There’s a clear message here for everybody now running for governor. Clearly, our state has a lot of problems. And I think all the candidates need to offer a clear agenda that includes both their vision and a coherent plan to fix things.
I haven’t heard much of that yet, but I think all those running better come up with one. Last year, one of the most qualified candidates in history ran a campaign for President which was focused mainly on attacking her inexperienced and often outrageous opponent.
Today’s candidates might start by asking how that worked out for her.
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Senior Political Analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.