As pundits have been pointing out for years, President Bush prizes loyalty above most other virtues. And "loyalty" has been the defining term for Condoleezza Rice, the president's nominee for secretary of state. She has been a soldier in the administration. A private person by nature, she has been willing to lead the charge on several fronts and defend the administration at every turn.
And that is what rankled the Senate panel looking into Rice's nomination. She hoped to be sworn in the same day the president was sworn in. That didn't happen. Her nomination was pulled back for more scrutiny.
Part of the problem is perception. What Rice sees as being steadfast, the panel seems to interpret as stonewalling. What she sees as optimism and strength, they are characterizing as stubbornness, arrogance and even cluelessness.
Condoleezza Rice may have an understated personality, but she has the fervor and focus of a revival preacher. That is laudable. But she is also beginning to see that being secretary of state requires grand diplomatic skills and a willingness to not only speak the truth to power, but speak it in the name of power. She is seeing that she is not only accountable to her president but accountable to the American people.
That is a tricky two-step. But the best statesmen in American history have done it well. George P. Shultz could admit mistakes without appearing to denigrate the decision makers. Colin Powell was able to walk the fine line. Henry Kissinger and James Baker were skilled at it.
To her credit, Rice is a quick study. After a fierce grilling that would have toasted lesser candidates, she returned to the panel the following day and spoke more candidly about the problems and missteps in Iraq. There will be more learning moments for her.
For, in the end, it is not "this administration" that is in Iraq. It is this nation. It is not "this president" who must find solutions in foreign policy, it is this nation.
And it is not the reputation of the Bush administration that hangs in the balance, it is the reputation of the United States of America.
To her credit, Rice is beginning to get it. The learning curve, however, is short and steep.
We applaud her nomination and wish her the best. For, as she's coming to realize, the best for her and her president must be the best for American citizens — past, present and especially future.