In an outrageous attack on President Obama’s ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, a delegation of right wing Congressmen are trying to scare the president into backing off his possible intention of making Rice the successor to Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, using as ammunition statements that Rice made during Sunday morning news shows in September about the attack in Libya that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens.
It is clearly just the latest attempt by the right wing to go after one of the president’s African-American cabinet members—a campaign that was begun as soon as Obama took office and thus far has resulted in the resignation of Van Jones, the president’s special advisor on the environment, the resignation of Shirley Sherrod, the Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture, and the passing of a contempt vote in the House against U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder because of the Fast and Furious gun running scandal in the ATF.
All of these Obama aides were unfairly and ridiculously slandered by Republicans in Congress and the conservative echo chamber, using words like “corrupt” and “incompetent” to describe a group of extremely talented and accomplished black public servants.
Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina noted the thinly veiled racism that has accompanied the stunningly silly attacks on Rice, who Republicans are trying to stop from assuming one of the highest posts in the land because of comments she made on a television show using talking points provided by the CIA. Clyburn said that Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who along with Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina led the attacks on Rice, “can’t hold a candle intellectually” to the brilliant Rice, a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford and Rhodes scholar whose dissertation at Oxford was awarded as the UK’s most distinguished in international relations.
“You know, these are code words,” he continued. “We heard them during the campaign … These kinds of terms that those of us, especially those of us who were born and raised in the South, we would hear these little words and phrases all of our lives and we’d get insulted by them. Susan Rice is as competent as anybody you will find.”
The media has also joined in on the attacks on Rice, with Dana Milbank in the Washington Post criticizing her “pugilism” and “shoot-first tendency” and Maureen Dowd in the New York Times describing her as a “bull in a china shop.”
“[The] nation’s top diplomat needs to show more sensitivity and independence—traits Clinton has demonstrated in abundance,” Milbank wrote. “Obama can do better at State than Susan Rice.”
After 97 House Republicans, led South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan, have signed a letter opposing Rice as Secretary of State, the right wing has turned this into a referendum on the spine of Obama, who passionately defended Rice last week during his White House press conference.
“For them to go after the UN Ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi, and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received, and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous,” Obama said, adding: “When they go after the UN Ambassador, apparently because they think she’s an easy target, then they’ve got a problem with me.”
Rice, whose parents divorced when she was a child, comes from extremely distinguished pedigree—her father Emmitt J. Rice, who died last year, was a Cornell University economics professor and the second black governor of the Federal Reserve System and her mother Lois Fitt is an education policy scholar at the Brookings Institution. She and her husband Ian Cameron, an ABC News producer whom she met when they were at Stanford, have two children and are close friends of the Obamas. Known as extremely competitive, Rice, who turned 48 three days ago, is a former three-sport athlete at the National Cathedral School in Washington, DC, and was a point guard on the basketball team—in addition to being student council president and valedictorian.
While Obama let Van Jones and Shirley Sherrod resign, he was angry and defiant in his defense of Holder during his conflicts with the House over the weapons scandal. He sounded equally defiant about Rice.
“If I think that she would be the best person to serve America in the capacity of the State Department, then I will nominate her. That’s not a determination that I’ve made yet,” he said at the press conference.
The question is, will Rice fall into the category of Jones and Sherrod—not valuable enough to the president to stand by them in the face of Republican braying? Or will she be like Holder and see the president nominate her for Secretary of State and stand up to the Republicans, even if it means using a considerable amount of his political capital accumulated two weeks ago in his resounding reelection?
We will have our answer in coming weeks.