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.