Why Susan Rice's Secretary of State Withdrawal Will Actually Help Democrats


Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the UN and presumed front-runner in possibilities for the next Secretary of State, withdrew her name from consideration for the post on Thursday. In a letter to President Obama, she cited the much-publicized criticism from prominent Republican leaders like Senators John McCain (Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.). "The confirmation process would be lengthy, disruptive, and costly — to you and to our most pressing national and international priorities. That trade-off is simply not worth it to our country," she wrote.

I'm sure her most vocal critics are somewhere enjoying a beer and enjoying a feeling that would be called vindication had the scandal been anything other than a prolonged shared hallucination. But, like Republicans' debt ceiling temper tantrum in 2011, like Romney's gleeful and obviously politicized deriding of Obama's foreign policy minutes after the Benghazi attack, this momentary triumph for Republicans is sure to give way to a net negative effect on the American public's impression of Republicans.

Whether you like Obama and his choice for Secretary of State or not, you've got to hand it to them: Time and time again, they have been able to make Democrats look like the party of adults, and Republicans look like the party of petty squabbles. It seems all part of a rather calculated strategy begun by President Obama that now appears to have rippled to other prominent Democrat leaders — conveying himself as the "last reasonable man in Washington."

In December 2010, Obama made the decision to extend the Bush-era tax cuts in what was widely seen as a political move to win back independent voters by conveying himself as sensible centrist, putting partisan loyalties second to efficiency and compromise. He revived that message and tone in almost every interview he gave during campaigning. He cunningly tapped into the growing frustrations that manifested themselves in Congress's lowest ever approval rating, the feeling that a leader larger than paralyzing allegiances and petty quarreling was growing extinct.

Republicans bore the results. More Americans said they would blame congressional Republicans if a debt limit deal weren't reached in 2011, and a new survey suggested the same in the case of a fiscal cliff failure. (And by a much wider margin than in the 2011 survey, it's worth noting.) Usually, the GOP's loss of the 2012 presidency is attributed to their failure to connect with minorities, and sometimes women. But this analysis curiously glazes over the significant possibility that the Republicans' hyper-partisan and inefficient squabbling had an irreversibly negative impact on Americans' perception of the party in 2012.

Rather than learning from these mistakes, the relentless criticism of Rice from Graham, McCain, and Ayotte spoke instead to Republicans' striking failure to adjust. They seem determined to go down with the ship. 

The resigned yet quietly excoriating tone of Susan Rice's letter, lamenting the rise of hyper-partisanship in recent years, is sure to compound the impression Americans will take away from this. Americans — citizens of any country, I would assert — do not want leaders who grasp at straws for power through character assassinations (largely delusional character assassinations, at that). They want a leader who recognizes that "we cannot afford such an irresponsible distraction from the most pressing issues," as Susan Rice wrote to President Obama.

If Republicans need examples of good leadership, they should look no further than Rice's letter.