If Susan Rice would like a shoulder to cry on after acknowledging she won’t become secretary of state, she might seek out someone who knows her pain. That someone would be legal scholar Lani Guinier. Both are tremendously talented Black women who rose to the top rungs of national government and enjoyed the favor of sitting presidents.
And like Guinier, who had her nomination for assistant attorney general for President Bill Clinton derailed nearly 20 years ago thanks to Republican opposition, Rice has learned what it feels like to be thrown overboard in an act of political expediency.
No doubt, President Barack Obama wanted Rice for the job of replacing Hillary Clinton. He voiced strong support for her in the wake of the Benghazi controversy, telling Republican senators that instead of criticizing her, they should criticize him.
But that didn’t stop a group of Republican senators from saying they would block her appointment.
Coming off his November victory, Obama could have waged a bloody battle to force Rice into the job of the country’s top diplomat. But it is clear that the confirmation hearings would have been ugly for both sides.
Did Obama really want to defend his nominee who did seem to be poorly informed at best or speaking untruths at worst in the handling of the Libyan embassy attack?
And did Republicans really want to be on the national stage bashing a smart, strong Black woman, after getting trounced in a national election where the lack of GOP outreach to minorities and women spelled their doom?
Would fighting for Rice have been a useful show of strength for Obama when he is in the middle of the “fiscal cliff” fight and other contentious battles over immigration reform and Social Security reform on the horizon?
That is why he was right to pull Rice’s nomination and keep his powder dry for the more serious political fights that lie ahead. It’s the same political calculus President Clinton did when confronted with fighting for Guinier’s nomination in 1993 and ultimately deciding it wasn’t worthwhile.
Like Rice, Guinier found herself in the crosshairs of a powerful Republican opposition.
A Wall Street Journal op-ed writer went so low as to call Guinier “Clinton’s Quota Queen,” which was just a few racist inches away from calling her a “welfare queen.”
Lani Guinier, President Bill Clinton’s nominee for assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division, gives a thumb’s up after the president introduced her during a ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington, April 29, 1993. Guinier is currently a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Guinier, a leading legal mind in the area of alternative voting rights, ending up taking a bullet for the Democratic team.
She didn’t protest (too loudly) the smear job done on her by Republican hatchet men.
It’s likely that the political reality of the situation rang out too loudly for Guinier to ignore: the President has bigger priorities than me.
That is the same realization that Susan Rice is coming to grips with today.
Some will blame Obama for a lack of political will, as they did when Clinton pulled the plug on Guinier’s nomination. But can a President be expected to fight every fight on his plate?
I think not.
Now that Obama gave a bone to his political rivals by ditching the Rice nomination, it is the time for him to show some backbone and stay true to the policies he espoused during the campaign.
I mean, after all, he did win the election, right?