Susan Rice and the Stations of the Senate

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 28 2012 1:23 PM

Susan Rice and the Stations of the Senate

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On the way into the Senate, just after noon, there was a familiar sight: A nest of TV cameras and a larger nest of print reporters, all gathered around something. The "something" turned out to be Sen. Bob Corker, one of the talkiest members of the Senate, and a man who has applied that skill recently to criticizing Susan Rice and saying her Sunday show appearances two months ago were "beyond belief."

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

This brought to mind the strange ineffectiveness of the Rice charm offensive. Starting on Tuesday, Rice answered the throwdowns made by John McCain et al on every recent Sunday show. She started meeting with people who criticized her publicly. These meetings have, so far, ended by Rice slippout and the Republicans reiterating their grave, grave concerns about Rice. Photos of McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte lead newspapers. The charm offensive, today, has led to stories like this one from Politico.

Susan Rice’s bid to become the next secretary of state hit another roadblock Wednesday when moderate GOP Sen. Susan Collins emerged from a face-to-face meeting and blasted the U.N. ambassador’s response to the Benghazi attack.
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This is conflict reporting, written to accentuate the conflict beyond the stakes. The "roadblock" is only explained at the end of the story: "Collins said she would not join McCain and other critics in holding up her nomination. But that doesn’t mean she would vote for Rice if she is nominated, Collins said." She had gone from being an uncertain vote for or against Rice to an uncertain vote who has criticized Rice over her appearance on Sunday shows, which would, presumably, be litigated in a hearing.

Compare this and the fallout to the John Kerry non-campaign and its non-fallout, as described by Matt Viser. Kerry is nowhere to be seen. He does not stop in front of blocks of cameras.

In disengaging from any public relations battle, Kerry is taking a page out of a playbook he used in 2000, when he was on the short list to become Al Gore’s running mate. Kerry largely disappeared from public view (but still began writing notes for a possible acceptance speech at the Democratic ­National Convention).

Does the Rice offensive make her more or less impressive as a potential diplomat? Her response to a certain media frenzy was to jump into it, knife in her teeth. If she was naive enough to think that Washington's Heathers would go easy on her because she gave them meetings, that's a strike against her. If she was just playing the game, knowing that the White House can count votes and knows the difference between filibuster and blather, I think that's a point for her.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.