Years ago when I was writing a regular column for The Record newspaper in New Jersey one of my columns was titled “With Friends like These…” in which I explored President Bill Clinton’s abandonment of African-American Cabinet choices he had previously deemed “friends.” During the Clinton presidency law professor Lani Guinier, and Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders and her replacement, nominee Dr. Henry Foster, found themselves in the “no friends” zone when their politics was questioned by conservatives, and all three were summarily abandoned by President Clinton. The episode reminded me of how President Carter ditched then U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young when the former congressman, mayor and civil rights leader dared suggest that a solution to the Middle East crisis was not possible without engaging the Palestinians.
Now, we see U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice being left out in the cold, not by President Obama, but by departing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. While it has been well documented now that Ambassador Rice was simply following the script given to her at the time, containing the intelligence available at the moment, when she made an initial statement on the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Libya, her Republican critics have gone out of their way to tarnish her reputation. President Obama has staunchly defended Rice but the Secretary of State, save a lukewarm expression of confidence in Dr. Rice, has literally left the Ambassador to be tarred and feathered for essentially doing her job. Meanwhile, Secretary of State Clinton has evaded critique by Republicans who are more intent on derailing the elevation of a Black Cabinet member who they deem as just another “uppity Negro,” as many on the right view the President.
There are two aspects to the events of the last month that are troubling. The first is that any African-American Cabinet member or nominee who is smart, strong and a Democrat, and in proximity to the White House, is summarily attacked by the right and subjected to a smear campaign. We witnessed this with Attorney General Eric Holder and now with Ambassador Rice. Contrast their treatment with that of Condoleeza Rice, who remained unscathed despite the twin disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan on her watch. Her predecessor, General Colin Powell, someone with greater experience and military expertise, was cast out of the Bush circle and demonized by Republicans for having the audacity to question the neocons thirst for warfare in Iraq. The very faction of the GOP that is attacking Rice is the bloc that Hillary Clinton long ago correctly identified as an orchestrated campaign aimed at her and the former President. Now, she seems to have forgotten that and is serving Ambassador Rice on a platter.
The second and equally disturbing aspect of Ambassador Rice’s dilemma is that it once again reveals the depths to which a Clinton places political self-preservation over taking a conscientious position. It is a character flaw that we have witnessed before, and now see in someone who is clearly preparing to make a run for the White House in 2016. What’s more, the Clintons fancy themselves as Black “play cousins,” a status made all the more possible by the foolish characterization of Bill Clinton as the first “Black President.” So, in many ways the Clintons feel they have license to determine the fate of African-Americans in their orbit and to behave in ways we would not allow factions on the right. We witnessed this during the presidential primary season in 2008 when it appeared President Clinton was becoming unhinged in his subtly racist critiques of Barack Obama. Remember, Ambassador Rice served in the Clinton administration so perhaps her cardinal sin was supporting a young, Black Illinois senator for president over the former First Lady. In many ways, the Secretary of State is as much a part of the ‘Old Boy’s Network’ as the old boys.
The Clintons are masters at finding the exit when the political fires are raging and everyone else is being burnt to hell. They somehow recover when others would have been consumed by a political crisis. If nothing else, the Clintons are survivors. That does not say much or speak well, however, of their integrity as leaders. Already assuming the aloofness of an anointed presidential candidate, the Secretary of State should not be allowed to walk away from this mess and leave Ambassador Rice to the wolves. We should demand more from the Secretary of State and a likely Democratic candidate for the presidency who will surely coming knocking on our door for support in 2016.
Walter Fields is Executive Editor of NorthStarNews.com