In 2005, George W. Bush nominated his close friend Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court. For the first time during his administration, the conservative commentariat revolted, almost en masse.
Miers eventually withdrew her nomination — but not before handing Bush a major public relations defeat at the hands of his base — and not before tarnishing her own reputation.
Now, some are wondering if history might repeat itself if President Obama nominates U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice for Secretary of State.
It does seem like their is potential that Rice could become Obama’s Miers — a person he feels personal affection for and wants to succeed — even though it reeks as a choice (and there are clearly better options).
Rice, of course, has been embroiled in controversy since appearing on multiple Sunday morning talk shows, and insisting the Benghazi attack began “spontaneously.”
Despite what should be an obvious deal breaker, Obama has been vocally supportive (some would say protective) of Rice. “If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody,” Obama recently averred, “they should go after me.”
Sounds like Bush to me.
It also seems oddly personal. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank put it this way: ”Obama’s over-the-top defense of Rice was surprising, particularly in contrast to the president’s relative indifference in accepting the resignation of CIA chief David Petraeus, one of the most capable public servants.”
And not everyone thinks Obama’s chivalry helps her cause, anyway. As Maureen Dowd observed: “The president’s protecting a diplomatic damsel in distress made Rice look more vulnerable, when her reason for doing those [Sunday TV] shows in the first place was to look more venerable.”
Coming off an election victory, Obama probably feels confident he has political capital. And to be sure, he has managed to push through legislation like health care reform — despite heavy opposition. But Bush was a two-term president, too. And if Obama is really Rice’s friend, he would do well to consider the lessons of Harriet Miers.
“[I]t’s one thing to push a program against the will of the system,” wrote John Dickerson during the Miers fight, “It’s another thing to push a person. A person bleeds. At some point, Bush’s refusal to scuttle Miers’ nomination may turn into an act of cruelty.”