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Defining Defiance Down

Obama's appointment of Susan Rice as national security advisor is not actually very bold

Getty/Evaristo Sa

President Obama today is expected to appoint Susan Rice, currently the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and recently the subject of nonsensical Republican invective regarding her alleged role in the alleged Benghazi cover-up, to be his new national security adviser. And the initial word from the White House media corps is that Rice represents a walking, talking middle finger that Obama is aiming straight at the GOP.

“A defiant gesture to Republicans,” declares the New York Times. “The latest in a series of defiant appointments,” says Politico. “The decision to appoint Ms Rice is a defiant gesture towards Republicans in Congress,” explains the Financial Times.

You’d think journalists who spend their days covering a politically polarized nation where accusations of racism, corrupt big-city-machine politics, secret alliances with foreign extremist organizations, ambitions to enslave the American people, not to mention nefarious plans to tax soup kitchens are regularly hurled at the president by sitting members of Congress would have a higher bar for just what constitutes defiance. Apparently not.

So, before loyal Democrats get too far along in their exultations about Obama’s new willingness to confront, let’s unpack this long-awaited gesture of presidential defiance: In moving Rice to national security adviser, the president is appointing her to a job that doesn’t require Senate confirmation—and one she’s been expected to get ever since the Republicans effectively scuttled her nomination for secretary of state. And, in so doing, he’s moving out an incumbent who’s lately drawn a bunch of heat from the GOP himself.

Somehow, this doesn’t feel like we’re about to witness a great moment of political pugilism. The nature of Rice’s new job means there will be no hearing-room showdown and no legislative arm-twisting. Senator John McCain, who just a few months ago was hectoring Chuck Hagel over the Pentagon nominee’s alleged wrongness about the Iraq surge, tweeted this morning that while he disagreed with the Rice appointment, “I'll make every effort to work w/ her on imp't issues.” It was not the tweet of a bear poked with a stick.

You know what would really have been defiant? If Obama had nominated Rice to be secretary of state.