(The Root) — What a difference some Thanksgiving turkey and time off can make. Apparently the downtime worked wonders on the moods of certain members of Congress, namely Sen. John McCain. Just weeks ago the man said of United Nations Ambassador Susan Rice, "I will do everything in my power to block her from being the United States Secretary of State," in response to her comments regarding the attack in Benghazi, Libya. By Sunday, McCain had this to say: "Sure, she can give everyone the benefit of explaining their position, and the actions they took. I'll be glad to have the opportunity to discuss these issues with her."
Late Monday, another development emerged. The senator agreed to meet privately with Rice.
McCain's position, which a plethora of media outlets described as having "softened," can be credited to a number of factors. First, the vehemence with which the senator challenged Rice's qualifications strained credibility at best and was downright laughable at worst. The man who introduced Sarah Palin on the global stage labeled the ambassador "not qualified." As a result, he and other members of the GOP were accused of using coded racial language to target her.
Additionally, the same passion that the senator has used to lambaste Rice for potentially misleading statements came across as sounding awfully familiar. It was reminiscent of the passion he used to defend Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for misleading statements in the lead-up to the war in Iraq. As these contradictions mounted, so did the perception that the senator was being motivated by more than just ideological differences with Susan Rice. According to sources, the animus between them is personal.
Should Susan Rice become secretary of state, she may have another high-ranking elected official besides President Obama to thank: With McCain's overzealous attacks on her inspiring cries of racism, sexism and good old partisanship, he has managed to unite progressives behind the president for Election 2012, the Sequel: the Battle for Rice.
But a secretary of state title may not be the biggest prize Rice ends up thanking McCain for. That title might just turn out to be "madam president." The Huffington Post recently compiled a list of likely female presidential contenders. Only three black women were on the list: first lady Michelle Obama, who certainly has the credentials and favorability ratings to follow former first lady Hillary Clinton into a career in politics; Condi Rice (no relation to the ambassador); and Kamala Harris, a Democratic attorney general from California who is part African American and part Indian American.
The dearth of women of color on the 20-person list (there were only five) highlights the challenge of electing them to state and federal office. The challenge of electing one to the presidency is even more daunting. But if anyone could break that ceiling, it's Susan Rice.
In many ways, Rice would seem to be a dream candidate. Having attended Stanford University, she became a Truman scholar and earned a Rhodes scholarship. Contrary to Sen. McCain's initial comments, if Rice's potential presidential hopes have any drawback, it may be that she's actually too qualified for some Americans. She holds a Ph.D. — only one American president, Woodrow Wilson, has held one to date.
A mentee of the first female secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, Rice became an assistant secretary of state for African affairs in the Clinton administration and served a stint on the National Security Council staff — all by age 33. Despite the controversy her potential secretary of state nomination has triggered, she was unanimously confirmed by the Senate to occupy her current post as U.N. ambassador.
In addition to a high-achieving academic pedigree, Rice has something else in common with President Obama: a family that reflects the diversity of America. She's the daughter of noted African-American economist Emmett Rice, a former governor of the Federal Reserve. And her husband is white and Canadian. They are the parents of two children. One thing Rice does not have in common with President Obama, however, is that in terms of foreign policy experience, she is actually far more qualified to be president than he was when he was elected in 2008.
Upon her father's death, Rice said of him: "He believed segregation had constrained him from being all he could be. The psychological hangover of that took him decades to overcome. His most fervent wish was that we not have that psychological baggage."
It is clear from the endurance that she has displayed while under siege in recent weeks that Rice is mentally tough. Now she appears poised to reach the stepping-stone of secretary of state that many believe may lead Hillary Clinton to a race for the White House. It's virtually impossible not to speculate that someday Rice might follow suit. If she does, she could fulfill her father's unrealized dream and see a Rice become all she can be: president.
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.