Susan Rice 1, Rand Paul 0

The GOP’s Benghazi scapegoat gets a promotion, and clueless Paul sacrifices his moral authority by lying about her

Published June 5, 2013 5:41PM (EDT)

Rand Paul, Susan Rice   (AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Reuters/Stephen Lam)
Rand Paul, Susan Rice (AP/J. Scott Applewhite/Reuters/Stephen Lam)

When ABC News published doctored emails about the development of Benghazi “talking points,” and the White House countered by releasing the originals, which told a very different story, the two versions agreed on at least one fact: U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice had nothing to do with the controversial description of the Benghazi attack that she shared in her five fateful Sunday show appearances last Sept. 17.

I thought at the time that Rice deserved an apology from Republicans who savaged her, once the truth about the talking points came out, but of course one never came. (Sen. Lindsey Graham countered by saying she "deserved to be subpoenaed" instead.) Now she’s gotten the next best thing: a promotion to National Security Adviser, once Tom Donilon leaves the job in July. The position needs no confirmation by the Senate, so Rice’s GOP critics have nothing to say about her new role.

Well, nothing to say that makes a difference, anyway. That didn’t stop them from talking. Sen. John McCain was slightly conciliatory, tweeting that while “obviously I disagree w/ POTUS appointment of Susan Rice as Nat'l Security Adviser…I'll make every effort to work w/ her on imp't issues.” On the other hand, Sen. Rand Paul insisted it undermined Obama’s “moral authority…to promote basically the person who is guilty of misleading us over the Benghazi tragedy.”

By lying about Rice’s role – she played no part in the behind-the-scenes controversy between the CIA and the State Department over how much and what to say about the attacks – Paul undermines his own moral authority. But lately that’s no impediment to influence within his party. (It’s possible that Paul isn’t smart enough to understand the details of what the Benghazi emails revealed, but that’s not a problem in his party either.)

Coming within 24 hours of the president’s announcing that he’s nominating three people to fill three long-vacant U.S. Court of Appeals Washington D.C. Circuit seats, it’s inevitable that Rice’s promotion is being described as representing a new “in your face” approach to his opponents (in the words of James Carville on MSNBC). The timing may just be coincidence: It’s long been assumed that Rice would succeed Donilon, and the outgoing security adviser always planned to leave early in the second term.

On the other hand, the fact that Obama didn’t hesitate to announce his appointment of Rice on the day after he defied Republican obstructionists with his three judicial nominees is a good sign.

I’m among the observers who saw disturbing racial and gender subtexts in the right’s attacks on Rice. McCain accused her of “not being very bright,” while Lindsey Graham said Rice either “misled the country” or is “incompetent.” It's one thing to say she did something wrong; it's another to dismiss her as not up to her job. Even as evidence mounted that Rice had nothing to do with the development of the talking points, and the real blame ought to go to former CIA director David Petraeus, she remained the right’s target.

When news of her impending appointment broke, the right-wing Townhall site sampled the old “Jeffersons” theme song for Katie Pavlich’s Rice-bashing column, “Moving on Up: Obama to Appoint Susan Rice as Top Advisor.” If you’re young to remember “The Jeffersons,” on this week that the great Jean Stapleton died, it was a spinoff from “All in the Family” featuring the Bunkers’ black neighbors, George and Louise Jefferson, leaving their working-class Queens neighborhood for the Upper East Side. Norman Lear fans of a certain age can probably still sing the theme song: “Movin’ on up, to the East Side, to a deluxe apartment in the sky …” That’s an interesting association to have when a black woman gets a promotion.

Rand Paul will likely continue to run his mouth, cementing his reputation as a guy who’s clueless when it comes to the rights of African-Americans and women. Remember when he told Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that if he were president, he’d have fired her? If he were president, no one with the stature of Rice or Clinton would be found anywhere near his administration. Obama did the right thing defying the Rice-hating obstructionists to appoint it. She deserved better, and now she’s gotten it.

By Joan Walsh