Chivalry is not dead, at least when certain women are concerned.
Consider the case of Susan Rice, whose honor has lately been defended with a zeal not seen since the age of heraldry. Rice is America’s ambassador to the United Nations, a longtime member of the president’s innermost circle, and a famously tough cookie, hardly the damsel in distress type, yet seemingly everyone in the Democratic partly now feels obliged to rush to her rescue.
It all began, oddly enough, when rumors were circulated in the press that Rice was to be the president’s choice for his next Secretary of State. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham were among those who objected to the idea, citing Rice’s very prominent role in peddling the administration’s infuriating lies about the terror attack in Benghazi, Libya, which killed an ambassador and three other American, and judging by the reaction on the left one might have assumed they had impugned the chastity of a vestal virgin.
The president was the first to express his indignation. Asked about the objections during a rare news conference, Obama summoned all the macho surliness of an Italian whose sister has been insulted as he warned that “If Senator McCain and Senator Graham others want to go after somebody, they should go after me. And I’m happy to have that discussion. But for them to go after the U.N. ambassador, who had nothing to do with Benghazi and was simply making a presentation based on intelligence that she had received and to besmirch her reputation is outrageous.” Obama also praised Rice for her “professionalism and toughness,” but we thought the part about the besmirching betrayed a more protective attitude.
Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina was just as vigorous, deploying the incendiary charges of sexism and racism on Rice’s behalf. Speaking on CNN’s “Starting Point” program, Clyburn charged that Rice’s critics were using “code words” such as “incompetent” and “lazy” to describe her, and added that “those of us were grown and raised in the South, we would hear these little words and phrases, and we’d get insulted by them.” Clyburn is apparently unaware that English-speaking people of all colors and from all regions find “incompetent” and “lazy” insulting, sufficiently so that they need not serve as code for something even more pejorative, but it is rather touching how very offended he that anyone would use such language against the fair maiden Rice.
It wasn’t just the men folk who were rushing to defend Rice’s besmirched reputation, however. Representatives Marcia Fudge of Ohio and Gwen Moore mounted a defense that was quite sisterly, in both the feminist and racial vernacular senses of the term, with both repeating the accusation that any criticism of Rice could only be accounted for by sexism and racism. Fudge complained that “any time anything goes wrong they pick on women and minorities,” while Moore groused that “they never have called a male unqualified, not bright, not trustworthy.” Both women seem to have forgotten the Bush years, when numerous white men were routinely pilloried with far harsher terms, and a black woman who served as Secretary of State was subjected to far more vulgar and explicitly racist criticism without any objection from black congresswomen, but such memory lapses are quite common these days.
Rice’s defenders also seem to forget that she did, in fact, go on several television news programs to promulgate an outright lie about an important matter of national security. What’s worse, the lie made a scapegoat of an American citizen for exercising his constitutional right to make a bad low-budget movie critical of Islam. The administration’s evolving explanation is currently that Rice was dutifully repeating the information that had been provided to her the intelligence community, which might even be true, but if so it calls her judgment into question. By the time Rice was repeating the fanciful tale that the deaths in Benghazi had resulted from a spontaneous riot provoked by an obscure video posted on YouTube, countless observers were already wondering why such a mob would gather months after the video’s posting and on Sept. 11, of all dates, and why the aroused mob would happen to have mortar launchers and rocket-propelled grenades and other heavy weaponry, and about several other fishy details. We were too skeptical of the story to repeat it as fact, as well, and we’re not applying for the job of Secretary of State.
There are other reasons to dislike Rice, as well, and none of them have to do with her sex or race. She has a long history of animosity toward Israel. She’s a protégé of Madeleine Albright. She reportedly raised her middle finger to a superior during a senior staff meeting at the State Department, which is hardly the sort of behavior one looks for when choosing a nation’s top diplomat, and so long as the country is being so very old-fashioned in its treatment of the fairer sex we’d note that it’s also not very lady-like. Indeed, Rice’s abrasiveness is such that even the famously rugged Russians have leaked word that they find it too hard to take.
Now we can also add the fact that she’s willing to countenance the cheap race-baiting that her defenders have mustered, and accept the patronizing protection of blustering men. Attempts to portray every position taken by a Republican as racist and sexist worked well enough to eke out a national election, and they might yet work again for Rice, but it does black people and women no favor to insist that they be held to a lower standard.
— Bud Norman