Wrong to use Rice vote as dissent (NEW YORK DAILYNEWS OP-ED) Charles Krauthammer 01/28/05)
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In parliamentary systems it´s common to turn a political nomination -
or even an insignificant bill - into a show of no-confidence in the
government or a policy. In the U.S. that´s far less common, but 12
Senate Democrats (plus the independent Jim Jeffords) have done just
that over Condoleezza Rice´s nomination for secretary of state.
They have used it as a way to stake out opposition to the Iraq war.
They are likely to pay a heavy political price. In this country, it
is customary to allow the President to choose his own cabinet, so
long as the nominee is minimally qualified. Rice is superbly
qualified and everyone concedes that.
Secretaries of state are generally approved unanimously. This is the
first nomination in a quarter-century to have earned even a single
dissenting vote, and the largest number of "no" votes since 1825. It
is certainly legitimate for senators to use whatever instrument they
wish to make a political point. But it is not very smart.
Because of her race, her symbolism and her personal story, Rice is
not a run-of-the-mill appointment, but a historic one. Which makes
some of the more vitriolic charges against the first African-American
woman ever chosen for the office once held by Thomas Jefferson
particularly wounding and politically risky.
Mark Dayton of Minnesota accused her of lying in order to deceive the
American people into going to war - a charge that is not just false,
but also suffers from not being believed by most Americans. Rice
didn´t generate intelligence. She was a consumer of a defective
Nor was she the principal architect of the war. That distinction lies
with the President and vice president. So, to pin much of the war on
Rice seems unfair and disproportionate.
You don´t expect to see an iconic civil rights leader like Andrew
Young indignantly defending a Bush administration appointment. It
took the Senate Democrats´ attack on Rice to produce that unlikely
Will it matter politically in the end? Can Democrats take the African-
American vote for granted? Perhaps, but it will be interesting to see
whether Democrats would be willing to repeat this exercise if Bush
were to nominate Clarence Thomas to succeed William Rehnquist and
become the country´s first black chief justice. The Democrats´
performance on the Rice nomination has opened precisely that
possibility for the President.
New York´s Hillary Clinton may have made not only the correct
decision, but a politically appropriate one as well by voting for
Rice´s confirmation. Clinton is steadily moving to the center with
her relatively hawkish work on the Armed Services Committee, her
recent conciliatory speech on abortion and now her unwillingness to
go over the cliff in opposing the Rice nomination.
Who has the politics of the Rice vote right? My guess is: Hillary, as
usual. (© 2005 Daily News, L.P. 01/28/05)
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