Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Blame Condi

I've been thinking about Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice since last Friday, when I watched Thandie Newton's twitchy portrayal of her in Oliver Stone's "W."
Love her or hate her (and as a proud progressive I'm no fan), Rice is undeniably one "bad" sister (as my dad would say). She holds a doctorate, is an accompished pianist, speaks French, is the first black woman, second African American and second woman to hold the Secretary of State post. Prior to filling the vacancy left by Colin Powell, she was Bush 43's National Security Advisor. She also served the elder Bush as Soviet and East European Affair Advisor. Outside of politics she was a professor of political science at Stanford University and served as Provost of the college for six years. I don't care who you are, those are pretty heady accomplishments. A body doesn't get to where Rice is without being highly intelligent, proactive, forceful, outspoken and politically savvy. A black and female body most certainly does not. Why then, does conventional wisdom paint Condoleezza Rice as a cipher--a twittering, unwitting dupe to the nefarious machinations of Bush and Cheney...a drone carrying out her master's work?
You know it makes me a little itchy to suggest that a black woman ought to be blamed for something. Somehow blame for bad stuff always finds its way aroung to women and/or people of color (Subprime loan crisis, anyone?). It's just that there seems to be both inherent racism and sexism in the way Rice is absolved of blame for the disaster that is the Bush administration.
Vice President Dick Cheney is often cast as a dark overlord, an Earth-bound Darth Vader. Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is a Machiavellian neo-con. And former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is a bald eagle-worshipping warmonger. There is a sort of genius ascribed to their "evil." Despite being the fourth most powerful person in the United States government, Rice is never credited among the leaders of the Bush gang. She is not widely considered, like the others, one of the architects of the Bush administration's destructive foreign policy (though she plays a large role in it). Rice is merely branded  ineffectual (which takes no genius). Or, she is tagged a lonely spinster, willing to do anything for her dynamic boss.
Oliver Stone/Thandie Newton's Condoleeza is a fluttery "yes" woman. The men get the meaty lines to deliver passionately. Colin Powell (Jeffrey Wright) argues passionately against a war with Iraq. Dick Cheney (Richard Dreyfuss) argues vociferously for it. Rice...is background...window dressing...powerless...unimportant in the history of things. A National Security Advisor played as note taker.
A highly-educated white male with experience in the upper echelons of federal government would be thought smart enough and forceful enough to be a part of the Bush/Cheney cabal. But because Rice is black (not smart enough) and a woman (not strong enough), she is marginalized--absolved of guilt for the wrong reasons.
I say, blame Condi like all the others in the Bush administration. To blame everyone but her is to fall prey to a trap of race and gender bias. Condoleezza Rice is a smart, tough woman in a position of tremendous power. She is SECRETARY OF STATE for goodness sake. We ought to do her the honor of holding her accountable. 


JenX67 said...

I couldn't agree more about holding her accountable for what she is accountable for. On the same token, I feel that we don't really know Rice - just what we are told about her and what few things she reveals. I'm probably over-sensitive to the criticsm she receives. I remember reading an interview she gave in which she said because she was Female and Black she had to be 10 times better than everyone else at what she did to get half the recognition. So, it's not lost on me that George, who gets a lot of criticism for being this or that or something else - chose her. Clinton's cabinet was diverse, but at least a few of his picks seemed disingenuous. Rice never seemed token in anyway manner. I have to say, what makes me hot around the collar more than anything is the focus on her sexuality - the whole spinster stuff. If a man is single and at that level of power, he is equivalent opposite: SEXY. Ok - enough ranting. Great thought provoking post, again.

Kjen said...

Calling for a person of color to share in the blame in which no one has actually produced any evidence of her involvement?

On second thought, I can't really name anything good or considering this administration mostly bad, policy wise, that I attribute to her.

Knowing not to be caught with her hand in the cookie jar, takes an intelligence and cunning of Sun Tzu. I'd be willing to give her "credit" for that.

Anonymous said...

Haven't seen the movie yet, but I agree, she deserves to be held accountable.
To her credit (and no, I don't care for her either), I think she'd want to be.

Tami said...


The evidence is that Rice is the Secretary of State and former National Security Advisor. She is responsible for this country's foreign policy. Unless you believe that she is a token or figurehead (which I have a hard time believing, because as I said, she is immensely intelligent and talented) then you have to believe that she holds the same responsibility for our missteps abroad as the rest of the Bush/Cheney cabinet.

thesciencegirl said...

I completely agree. When I saw "W" over the weekend, I was pissed off that Sec. Rice was largely a silent character, more a part of the scenery than the cast. And when she did speak, she was a caricature. As soon as the movie was over, this was the first comment I made to my friend, who is also a black female, and she said that it had immediately struck her too.

The Silverback said...

I think it is a combination of the way the media works in these times. Believe it or not blacks have more power than we ever dreamed. Fox is not going to put her on blast because she is a republican and CNN is afraid to speak to badly about her for fear of Al and Jesse and the Black blogosphere. I think if Condi was as bad as Palin (of course a black woman with Palin's credentials would not be taken seriously) the media and the world would not treat her the same for fear of a black backlash.

Mes Deux Cents said...

Hi Tami,

I think you make great points with regard to Rice and her culpability. I think that the reason she is not blamed like the others is that she was a fish out of water.

Rice's real claim to fame is that she was/ is an expert on the Soviet Union. As you know the Soviet Union no longer exists. Rice missed her time. Sadly she spent her life preparing for a role that was cut from the show.

So as a modern day Sec of State/ National Sec Advisor Rice has no real understanding of the 'new' world order and America’s place in it.

I think that Rice spent the last 8 years trying to get up to speed. She may have accomplished it had it not been for 9/11 and the take-over of the White House by the Neo-Cons.

I think as time goes by we will all see just how out of step Rice was. The fact that Rice is a Black woman, in this case, I think is irrelevant. She was just miscast for the role she played.

Lady C said...

I won't be seeing "W," because I'm no fan of Oliver Stone's storytelling. If Condi appeared to be in the background, that is because Oliver Stone marginalized her.

Condi is just as complicit as the rest of those warmongers. I read somewhere (cannot remember where right now), that Condi couldn't wait for Powell to resign, because she wanted his job.

Madelene Albright's father taught Condi Rice, and she was his favorite student. Albright said that she didn't know how "two sisters" (she was referring to herself and Condi) taught by the same father could come up with different ideologies.


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