December 13, 2012

Scott Olson

Susan Rice has withdrawn from consideration for Secretary of State. A few initial thoughts:

  • I’d caution everyone to wait a bit before drawing any firm conclusions about what happened here. We don’t know she was Barack Obama’s first choice. We don’t know, if she was the top choice, why she didn’t wind up the pick. If outside objections mattered — say, from John McCain — we don’t know which ones mattered, and it’s not necessarily the loudest ones.
  • Absolutely everyone who voiced any objection (conservative lawmakers and media, for instance) will have an interest in claiming that he or she was the one who derailed the nomination. Doesn’t make it true.
  • We’ll hear those claims the loudest from whoever has the loudest megaphone (and the Republican partisan press is an awfully loud megaphone). Doesn’t make it more likely that those who take credit the loudest were those responsible. If anyone was responsible.
  • All that said: if Obama backed off of Rice purely because he was afraid of a fight with Republicans, it’s probably a poor choice…although it depends, a bit, on whether he had counted the votes and knew she couldn’t get confirmed, as opposed to simply wanting to avoid a messy but successful confirmation.
  • However: while all executive branch appointments are important, it’s very easy to overstate the importance of which person goes into which slot, and especially easy to overstate the importance of these high-prestige, high-profile selections. Obama’s second term foreign policy is apt to be pretty much the same whether Rice, John Kerry, or some other pick is Secretary of State.
  • And so it’s worth waiting until all the dust settles — and until we know more — before evaluating this and other decisions. 

Generally: there’s a fine line between wisely picking up on cues and only choosing smart fights, on the one hand, and getting rolled too easily, on the other. It’s hard to assess a lot of that even with very good information, and even harder with rumors and self-serving claims flying around.