Susan Rice withdrew her name from the list of candidates to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State on Wednesday.
It was a smart move and the only one left. But the reasons most people will give for why she was wise to do it, from her role in the Benghazi “cover up” to business interests in the Keystone XL pipeline, are bunk. It was really about her personality.
People did not like her. Maureen Dowd, the New York Times columnist, described her as having a “bull-in-a-china-shop reputation.” In a famous anecdote from earlier in her career, Rice reportedly gave Richard Holbrooke the middle finger during a meeting with senior staff at the State Department. (Holbrooke is a well-known foreign policy figure and former assistant secretary of state.) In recent weeks, even the Russians weighed in. The Russian daily Kommersant quotes an anonymous Russian foreign ministry official as saying Rice is “too ambitious and aggressive.”
The complaints senators had about her nomination on substantive grounds were probably just cover for concerns about her temperment. Even John McCain, one of her loudest opponents, said she might be acceptable if she offered some sort of mea culpa on Benghazi. And the news that she is heavily invested in companies that would benefit from the Keystone XL pipeline, which would be a conflict of interest if she were secretary of state, is something you would think Republicans would actually be happy about, since they want the pipeline to be approved. At the least, Rice could have divested from the relevant companies and squashed the matter. These two issues, which are the ones that come up most often, are nothing out of the ordinary for candidates facing a Senate vote.
The reaction to her candidacy also makes you wonder about the role race and gender play in the equation. For instance, women are often described as “pushy” where men acting the same way would be called “assertive.” Would the anonymous Russian official have described a man as “too ambitious and aggressive”? There could be more at play here than Rice’s record or “personality.”
But, we’ll never really know because she has taken herself off the front burner. It was the politically expedient move. It was probably what was best for the White House in the end too.
But if a male Supreme Court nominee can pass Senate approval while being accused of sexual harassment by a former aide, it is unfortunate to think that Rice could not have survived a dust up over the Benghazi timeline and personal investments, no matter whom she might have flipped off.