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The Gruntled Contrarian: Susan Rice Is Not Ready For Prime Time

The late Nebraska senator Roman Hruska will be remembered forever for his underwhelming defense of Richard’s Nixon’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Harrold Carswell.  Democrats opposed Judge Carswell as “mediocre.”  “Even if he were mediocre,” Mr. Hruska proclaimed, “there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance? We can’t have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos.”

A photograph of Senator Hruska's proud moment.  Ain't the Internet grand?

Which, as you might guess, brings us to the mostly-manufactured kerfuffle, brouhaha, and ballyhoo about Susan Rice.

Having lost this bellowing point in the presidential elections, the Republicans are now opposing Dr. Rice for Secretary of State by trying to gin up a case that she lied to the American people about the attack in Benghazi.  President Obama is sticking to his guns, broad-brushing the Benghazi issue, maintaining that Rice is an “extraordinary” diplomat and puffing that her critics should “go after me.”

My take?  Susan Rice is not extraordinary.  Neither did she lie to the American people.  What she is, based on her handling of the Benghazi matter, is not ready to be Secretary of State.  She is President Obama’s Harrold Carswell.

Dr. Rice is certainly well-credentialed.  After her Rhodes scholarship and Oxford Ph.D., she joined up with the Clinton White House as an expert on African diplomacy.  She waited out the Bush years at the Brookings Institution before joining the Obama campaign as foreign-policy advisor and then being nominated as United Nations Ambassador by the new President.

Yet, she never came across as a buttoned-down type of diplomat.  She brought her infant son, whom she was still breast-feeding, to her confirmation hearing.  She notoriously punctuated a disagreement with the late and masterful diplomat Richard Holbrooke by giving him the finger.  Classy.  She is know for insulting and shouting at colleagues.  She was removed for a time as the foreign-policy spokesperson for the Obama campaign after “getting out ahead of her skis” criticizing the Bush policy of not negotiating with Iran until it suspended its nuclear program – though this policy had in fact been developed by our European allies.  And, although tough-negotiating women have always been judged more harshly than tough-negotiating men, it is significant that Russia is opposing her confirmation because they see her as too “ambitious and aggressive” to deal with successfully.

And so, to Benghazi.

Republican critics are foaming at the mouth that Dr. Rice intentionally concealed the truth about the Benghazi attacks, concealing Al Qaeda’s involvement in the attack so as not to undermine the President’s campaign-season claim that Al Qaeda has been largely neutralized.  The more strategically-minded cynics among us suspect that the true Republican motive is to scuttle Rice’s nomination so that the second choice, John Kerry, will be nominated and his Senate seat will be taken by the newly-unemployed calendar boy Scott Brown.

OK, this nudity is not strictly necessary, but why miss the opportunity?  Indeed, why miss THIS:

Like Republicans’ surrealistic theories about global warming or Alaskan oil drilling, it would be pretty to think so.  But, we now know it ain’t true.  It turns out that references to Al Qaeda or organized terrorism were deleted from the talking points by some shadowy hand in the Executive branch. (David Petreaus, who we now know had a few other things on his mind at the time of the attack, testified that the CIA did not make the changes; the White House says it was someone in the Executive, but they won’t say who).

So, why is it that, after the November 27 meeting that was supposed to lead to perestroika, Senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Kelly Ayotte reported that they had more reservations than before the meeting, and were considering blocking the confirmation?  Here, I think, is why.

Susan Rice knew, before her appearances on the September 16 talk shows, that the Benghazi attacks were premeditated acts of terrorism.  The FBI had interviewed most of the survivors of the attack by then.  Libya had arrested more than 50 Al Qaeda sympathizers or affiliates in connection with the murders.  Rice testified recently that she had received memoranda on all of these facts before she went on television.  And yet, she stated in those interviews that the the attack was part of a spontaneous protest by “a small number of people” that came about “a direct result of a heinous and offensive video” (the silly and inept Innocence of Muslims trailer), despite “a substantial security presence there with our personnel.”

The basic “spontaneous protest” story, we now know, was direct from the White House talking points memo.  Dr. Rice was told to mouth those talking points.  But, she knew they were untrue.  Knowing this, she should have firmly pushed back against being asked to parrot them.  In this instance, she was a good soldier, but not a good potential General…or potential Secretary of State.

Other of her statements, including the “small number of people” and the “substantial security presence,” which were also untrue (the “security presence” apparently was a reference to the two ex-SEALS who were on assignment about a mile away, and had no responsibility for protecting the Ambassador), apparently were not part of the talking points.  These misstatements were apparently Rice’s own creations.  In that regard, she is at best sloppy with facts, which does not augur well for a diplomat.

Imagine Susan Rice as the Secretary of State going head-t0-head with Hamas, Pakistan, or I’m-A-Dinner-Jacket at the next Missile Crisis, or holding the hand of David Cameron or Bibi Netanyahu.  Heck, imagine how difficult it is just to juggle the alliances, sensitivities, and internal politics of scores of nations worldwide.  This is a job for a remarkable statesperson, like Hillary Clinton, Dean Acheson, or Henry Kissinger.  It is not a job for a political friend of the President.  Susan Rice is not a liar, but she is not extraordinary; and she is not ready for prime time.

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The Gruntled Contrarian: Might A Sensible Person Vote For Mitt Romney?

This Tuesday,  close to seventy million people are going to vote to elect Mitt Romney president.  It is easy to dismiss these folks as either (a) mouth-breathing guv’m’t-hating Militiamen with confederate flags hanging in the rear windows of their pickup trucks or (b) hedge-fund-managing filet-eating country-club Protestants named Bunky and Missy, and to chalk up their votes to self-interest or ignorance.  But, to argue ad populum as Elvis did back when Eisenhower was president, can seventy million people all be stupidly wrong?  Inspired by a friend who asked her Facebook mischpucha to state a reasoned argument in favor of Romney for President (no one responded), here is my answer.

The argument against Obama

First, of course, is the argument that Romney hoped would be sufficient to carry the day:  The referendum on Obama’s first term.

If this election were simply about Obama’s performance as president, even we Obama supporters have to admit, it’s been a rocky road since those heady Audacity of Hope days four years ago.  Those four years seem to have had a clear arc:  Like other presidents (think FDR, Reagan, Johnson), our guy front-loaded his term with a slew of policy initiatives.  Although we cheered his audacity, it seemed that Obama trampled Congress by ramming through the Affordable Care Act, the closure of Gitmo, and the attempted cap-and-trade legislation, when those issues seemed so much less important than rescuing the free-falling economy.  Then, after a rumpus of Tea Party candidates won their mid-term elections and threatened to hold the debt ceiling increase hostage to their demands for lower spending, our guy backed down meekly, agreeing to cut $917 trillion from the budget through the tragically ill-considered “Super Committee.”  Since then, he has been a nondescript centrist with a seemingly fireless belly, leading finally to his what-me-worry performance in the first presidential debate last month.

So, the first defensible reason for a vote for Romney:  Our guy seems to have lost his fire; time to try a fresh horse.

Second is the general argument from fear and concern.  Yes, housing starts are up, unemployment is lessening steadily, and the stock market is at record highs.  But, if you’re out of work, or upside-down on your home’s value, or just frightened that the national debt will threaten Medicare, Social Security, and national strength, these Budget Office statistics are no more meaningful than the rosy agricultural news that used to be announced in Pravda.  Admittedly, Romney’s plans to boost the national economy are either naive (we’ll force China to normalize its currency!) or mundane (we’ll eliminate wasteful spending!) or nonexistent (I’ll figure it all out with Congress!); but, the top-line claims of lower spending, lower taxes and twelve million new jobs speak directly to people who are afraid for the future.  (And, credit has to be given to Romney for even whispering that Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are not sustainable in their present form, which is the dirty little subject no politician wants to touch).

Third is the argument for Romney himself.  True, it is difficult to argue in favor of Romney’s policies, because he has proved himself to be the Don E. Mobile of politics.  (Perhaps because he is indifferent to policy when it interferes with ambition; but more likely because he is trying to serve so many interest groups at the same time).  After an entire primary and campaign season of mouthing the lines of the hard social and fiscal right, he showed up at the first presidential debate as a moderate.

But, then, most voters are not policy wonks.  It would not be stupid to look at Romney as follows:  He is an energetic and enthusiastic politician; he has experience running things, from Bain Capital to the Olympics to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (Obama, of course, ran nothing other than the Harvard Law Review until he took office); and, he has some history of being able to build a consensus between political parties.  A person could sensibly conclude that Romney will be a businesslike president who will bring new energy to the job and might even break the logjam in Washington (especially if we Democrats continue to accept every unctuous one-sided offer of compromise from the other guys).

Perhaps the Argument for Romney is best summed up in the Orlando Sentinel he-ain’t-great-but-give-the-guy-a-chance endorsement, excerpted below:

Romney is not our ideal candidate for president. We’ve been turned off by his appeals to social conservatives and immigration extremists. Like most presidential hopefuls, including Obama four years ago, Romney faces a steep learning curve on foreign policy. But, he has a strong record of leadership to run on. He built a successful business. He rescued the 2002 Winter Olympics from scandal and mismanagement. As governor of Massachusetts, he worked with a Democrat-dominated legislature to close a $3billion budget deficit without borrowing or raising taxes, and pass the health plan that became a national model.  This is Romney’s time to lead, again. If he doesn’t produce results — even with a hostile Senate — we’ll be ready in 2016 to get behind someone else who will.

So, there you have it.  Translated into a bumper sticker:  Romney.  Hell, It’s Worth A Try.

Romney-Inequality-Banner.jpeg

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