by Clarence Page

Do race and gender bias fuel the raging Senate fight that has erupted for remarkably little reason over United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice's possible nomination to be secretary of state? I think not. If anything is standing in this highly qualified African American woman's way on Capitol Hill, it is not racism or sexism. It's cronyism.

Washington, you understand, is a lot like high school. You have your in-crowds and your misfits and everybody in between. All jockey around for some swag and sway with the Big Man on Campus, better known to outsiders as the president, whom everyone also would be delighted to replace, one way or another, with themselves.

As President Obama's potential nominee comes under increasing fire, despite a glaring emptiness to the arguments against her, Senate Republicans have taken a conspicuous liking to another name on the president's shortlist, Sen. John Kerry. The Massachusetts Democrat comes from the other party but, as a senator, like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton used to be, he's one of their own.

In that world, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D., Ohio), incoming chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, may have been setting her sights too low by suggesting in recent days that Rice's critics may be showing race and gender bias. "It is a shame that anytime something goes wrong, they pick on women and minorities," the Ohio Democrat said in a news conference.

After all, she noted, "Susan Rice's comments didn't send us to Iraq and Afghanistan. Somebody else's did." True that. But let us not forget that Republicans were delighted by another black woman, coincidentally named Rice, who played a high-profile role in the run-up to those wars, too.

Some of us still remember, for example, the scary warnings by then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, no relation to Susan, on a Sunday talk show in September 2002. She talked of Iraq-bound shipments of "high-quality aluminum tubes that are only suited for nuclear weapons programs" and how "We don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud."

That chilling news turned to be bogus after it had spurred us into a questionable war. Yet it did not stop Rice's rise to become secretary of state.

Now two Republican senators who vigorously defended Condoleezza Rice's nomination to that job, Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, lead a Republican offensive against Susan Rice over a far more understandable and, for her, forgivable intelligence snafu than the chain of errors that pulled the U.S. into the Iraq war.

On Sunday talk shows after the Sept. 11 attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, Rice said that, "based on the best information we have to date," the attacks began "spontaneously" in response to an inflammatory anti-Islam video that triggered riots in Cairo and elsewhere after it was posted on YouTube.

She also said "extremist elements" then joined the attack, although she did not directly mention terrorism or a suspected al-Qaida affiliate. For that omission, she has been accused of maybe, just maybe, shading the truth to help President Obama's re-election, although that notion is supported by far more suspicions than actual evidence.

Which only makes the language get more heated. At one low point Sen. McCain called the Rhodes Scholar and seasoned diplomat "troubling" and "not very smart." He later softened his tone. Maybe somebody reminded him that, as the 2008 GOP presidential candidate, he proposed Sarah Palin to sit just one of his heartbeats away from the presidency? Now, that's troubling.

Congress can redeem itself by focusing on what we should be caring about: Who deleted the terrorist group references from Rice's talking points before she went on the talk shows? CIA, State Department and FBI officials point fingers at one another. Yet Republican senators remain "obsessed," as Obama's press secretary Jay Carney put it, with Rice.

More important: Why was security in Benghazi so lax despite repeated requests for beefed-up protection? Why were American rescue troops stationed so far away? None of these critical issues were the responsibility of the UN ambassador. Yet, GOP senators make her the big headline. Is the election over yet?


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