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March 22, 2005

Honeymoon Rice: Deja vu all over again
Posted by Heather Hurlburt

Derek, re your Rice post, I know you remember 1997 at the State Department.  As I watch Rice, though, I keep wondering whether she and her handlers remember not just 1997, but 1998, 1999 and 2000.

In 1997, of course, Madeleine Albright became Secretary of State.  The first woman secretary... the American dream come true for a little immigrant girl, whose own story exemplified the triumph of freedom over tyranny... who worked the media, wooed the Europeans and wowed the Washington political dinner-theater circuit.

Bumperstickers proclaiming "Albright for President" -- even circulated, though not specifying whether of the US or the Czech Republic.  (She's ineligible here until the Arnold Schwarzenegger Amendment passes.  When it does, Albright-Granholm would be a heckuva primary... but I digress.)

Fan mail, adoring crowds, Annie Liebowitz photoshoots in Vogue...

Sound familiar?  Hey, whaddya know, you can be a diplomat and have a personality.  Interesting how this sort of trajectory never seems to happen to, say, the Secretary of Agriculture.

It couldn't last, of course.  The staff thought we knew that.  But when you get to thinking that your boss deserves the good press, before you know it, you're unprepared for the bad.  And Albright took a drubbing that was as unreasonable as her initial honeymoon was idealized. 

It will be interesting to see whether Rice's people are better prepared for this, and whether she herself is thick-skinned enough to handle the idols-with-feet-of-clay stories that are inevitable.  I have my doubts, but hey, prove me wrong.

Derek, your larger question can be boiled down to, does she have an agenda and if so, what is it?  It seems a safe bet to say that she is where she is because of her fealty to Bush's second-term agenda.  Jim Hoagland laid this out last weekend about as well as anything I have seen.  Can she turn the corners of this unilateralist-in-all-but-name agenda into a circle that maintains America's strongest asset, its leadership of great alliances and institutions for great purposes?  Can she, working with Karen Hughes but starting from what she herself says and does, use not just image but also policy to arrest the slide of America's standing in the world?  And, by the way, can she reassert State's policy prerogatives to complement the work Albright and Powell did resuscitating its funding?

I suppose we had better wish her luck.


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