Pundits at all levels have been scratching their heads at the persistence of Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) in opposing a nomination for a cabinet post that hasn't even been officially acknowledged by the White House.
The presumptive nominee, United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice for Secretary of State in the second Obama administration, has now completed two days of private meetings with the senators, and they, joined by other Republican senators, continue to claim that her performance on Sunday talk shows months ago disqualifies her for the office.
An explanation to provoke head smacks becomes obvious, however, when you consider who the second choice might be. Senator John Kerry would relinquish the Democratic seat he has held for 28 years for Massachusetts. Republican Scott Brown, who narrowly lost the other Massachusetts seat in a bitter battle with Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), would be ready to step into a special election and pick up where he left off.
The Associated Press has noted Kerry's uncomfortable position. He appears to want the job, but has a longstanding discomfort with the ways jobs are won in Washington. He certainly would also not want to be the mechanism by which Brown regained the Senate. It's easy to see why the GOP prefers him to Rice, and perhaps not surprising that it's about shifting the position of the Senate's two-party aisle more than about who would best represent the nation to the world.
Who makes the best secretary of State is what matters to me as a citizen, though, so let's look at some pros and cons:
Even though we've still not had a woman president, it says something to the world that we have a woman in the line of succession, and that we have confidence — and maybe even a little sass — in sending women to deal with the masculine issues of war and peace, to negotiate with patriarchal cultures, and to make the appeal for human rights. Rice has proven herself at the UN, and has an established status there as a diplomat — both policy representative and negotiator.
What makes me most nervous about Kerry as secretary of State, on the other hand, is exactly his manliness. It's not just that he is male, but more that he has made such a thing of maleness. OK, after his heroic service in Vietnam, he became a leading veteran against the war. But when we came back around to his winning the nomination for president, in the middle of a war that was rapidly becoming indefensible, he "reported for duty." If that image sticks in my mind (and craw), might it also prompt manly world domineers to take him on?
Yes, too, it would really annoy me to see the Republicans beat up another good woman public servant and to give them another male toe in the door of the Senate. Most of all, it would grate to see these things happen by political stealth.