Soon, Susan Rice’s announced decision to take herself out of the running for U.S. Secretary of State will recede from the spotlight. More pressing matters – the fiscal cliff, international drama, President Obama preparing for a new term and a new agenda – will see to that.
But before the story goes away, brace yourself for some ugliness. Some will say it’s the fault of obstructionist Senate Republicans that Rice wasn’t promoted from her current post as U.N. Ambassador. Others will play the race card (MSBNC’s Andrea Mitchell wasting no time), as Rice would have been America’s third consecutive African-American Secretary of State.
Here are three reasons why, in my estimation, President Obama chose not the go through with the Rice nomination – and it has less to do with Republican machinations (like John McCain joining the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and thus awaiting Rice as a nomination roadblock) – than it does political realities at the year’s-end:
1) The Cliff Dwellers. At some (eventually, maybe not so soon), President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner will announce a tentative agreement to avoid the federal fiscal cliff. But turning that framework into legislation that can actually reach the President’s desk requires harmony in Congress. Nominating Susan Rice for Foggy Bottom would have put a serious dent in said harmony.
2) 2014. Democrats have 20 Senate seats to defend in 2014, to only 14 for Republicans. Some of those seats are in red states – Alaska, Arkansas, North Carolina, West Virginia – where the Democratic incumbent would rather not justify a yea vote for Rice’s confirmation – i.e., defending what she said about Benghazi. Perhaps a Rice confirmation could have been delivered via a Democratic majority (they do have 53 votes, plus two left-leaning independents, so maybe it could have been muscled through). The guess here is Democrats told the President it’s a bruising fight they’d rather avoid. Certainly not to begin . . .
3) Obama’s Second Term. Five weeks from today, President Obama will deliver his second inaugural address. It’ll be chock full of soaring rhetoric – and a promise of a more productive process in Washington (just as Obama promised in 2009). The choice of Rice – knowing it was picking a fight, knowing it would have a sent a bellicose if not defiantly arrogant tone given the warning signs from the Senate – would have flown in the face of that spirit of eased tensions in the nation’s capital.
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Unfortunately, there’s another story that won’t go away in 2013 – maybe 2014 or 2015, for that matter. And that’s what happens to Hillary Clinton now that her time at Foggy Bottom is nearing an end.
The media call it “Clinton Fatigue” – a term that first came into vogue when Bill Clinton’s shadow was causing problems for Al Gore’s presidential run way back in 2000. And it returned with a vengeance in 2008 when Hillary took a stab at her husband’s old job.
The media fascination with Secretary Clinton’s next career phase – the next chapter in her story, when does she get serious about 2016 – marks the third (and final?) installment of Clinton intrigue fatigue.
An example: Barbara Walters’ interview this week with the soon-to-be-exiting Secretary (part of her mind-numbing “10 Most Fascinating People” special), which turned into a hairy discussion about Mrs. Clinton’s coif. Why it’s tiring: just perform a Google search on the interview. You’ll find links to stories claiming the interview was sexist, biased against Republicans (on the same show, Walters was much tougher with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie). As usual, Clinton conspiracy theorists found the whole thing non-plausible (the idea of a Secretary of State not caring much about her personal appearance). Dig deeper and one descends into the Internet booby hatch of the Clintons and their complicated marriage, now that she’ll soon longer be a globetrotter and, in theory, free to spend more quality time with Bill.
In short, the question is whether American can withstand another two years of such Hillarymania until she makes a definitive statement about her 2016 aspirations. Remember, we’ve been through before – immediately after the 2004 election. While America awaited Clinton’s decision (she announced her run on Jan. 20, 2007 – exactly two years before what would have been her inauguration), the media didn’t stop talking about her. And that created a vacuum for an alternative to the presumptive nominee – a vacuum neatly filled by one Barack Obama.
Perhaps it’s in Secretary Clinton’s personal and political best interests to lay low in 2013 – to the extent that a Clinton, like a Kardashian, can thrive without media attention.
Say no to the interview requests, Madame Secretary. Don’t write another book about yourself. Go somewhere secluded. Stay off the grid.
She can use the time off.
America can use the time-out.
Follow Bill Whalen on Twitter: @hooverwhalen