We've been looking at this Susan Rice controversy all wrong. Many people have puzzled as to why Republican senators, particularly John McCain, are fixated on what Rice said about the attacks in Benghazi during several Sunday talk-show appearances September 16. Rice had no role in securing the consulate, and she's not being asked to answer for its vulnerability. Instead, the dispute is very much about how closely she hewed to her talking points as a spokesperson for the administration on TV. If it all seems like a frenzy over something that matters very little to average American people and very much to a couple of long-serving American senators, you have to remember: talking points on talks shows are very, very important to the careers of long-serving senators. And Sunday talk shows are especially important to John McCain.
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They even have a scorecard for this type of thing. In 2011, McCain fought back to second place on the list of most popular guests with 19 Sunday-show hits, just behind Michele Bachmann, who had 20. By November 27 of this year, McCain had recaptured the title, with 20 Sunday-show appearances. Who's in second place? Lindsey Graham, McCain's partner in Rice-chasing. (He was No. 3 in 2011 and 2010.)
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In her interview today with The New York Times' Maureen Dowd, Maine Sen. Susan Collins, a less popular guest, nevertheless reveals the centrality of Sunday-show hits in a senator's worldview. "If I wanted to be secretary of state," Collins told Dowd, "I would not go on television and perform what was essentially a political role." It's more a senators' thing. Collins didn't say she'd block Rice if Obama nominates her to Secretary of State. But she's shocked Rice hasn't remedied the talking points controversy in the way a senator might:
Collins is curious why Rice is not angrier, if, as she insists, she was repeating what she was told. “I’d be furious at the White House and F.B.I. and intelligence community for destroying my credibility,” the senator said.
How should Rice express that fury? On a Sunday show, perhaps?