Last night on NBC's news magazine Rock Center, when Susan Rice explained to anchor Brian Williams why she's withdrawing from consideration as the next U.S. Secretary of State, she came across as articulate, level-headed, unflappable, and resolute -- all qualities that would have served us well had she taken over the post. She would have followed in the tradition of Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton had she not become the target of Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. She claimed she's stepping down because of politics, but that's only part of the story.
Whatever she said in the hours immediately after the raid on the U.S. Consulate in Libya may have been wrong, but it was the best intelligence at the time. For the simple mistake of human error and sharing details that later proved to be wrong, Susan Rice takes the fall. And she's doing so so because two GOP bullies perceived her as the weakest link in Obama's chain of command and identified her as the one to go after. Not Hillary Clinton who is stepping down, and not President Obama because all their firepower failed to derail his re-election. No, it's Rice they attack because conveniently, she's a black woman and therefore low human being on the totem pole of power.
Rice has impeccable educational credentials and a distinguished career, reaching many milestones at a young age. But she also has the characteristics of being black and female, which means she has to prove herself in ways white males don't--and risk specific types of criticism if she falls short. If Rice came out overly forceful in defending herself and the Obama administration in her many closed-door meetings on Capitol Hill, she would have been accused of being an "angry black woman" and a bitch. (If the tables were turned, let's see that kind of level-headedness and grace under pressure come from John McCain, her loudest accuser.)
One could argue that Condoleezza Rice (no relation to Susan) and her accomplishments as Bush's Secretary of State prove this argument wrong, but there's always a sense of competition here that shouldn't exist, as if it comes down to "my girl is better than your girl." (Condi Rice is a black women conservatives are proud do claim as one of their own. No better proof exists than the fact that she was one of the first two women invited to join Augusta, the golf/country club that hosts the annual Master's Tournament and has been infamous for excluding women from its elite membership list for many decades.)
This sense of "ownership" slips out here and there when the white male pols talk. It came through in a statement by Senator Bob Corker (R-Tennessee), who described Rice as too much of an Obama loyalist; he said the GOP would prefer "someone of independence."
So how is it that loyalty serves Condi but comes up to bite Susan on the backside? Is she being sacrificed by the Obama administration as some have speculated?
The Republicans will be happy with the likely nomination of Sen. John Kerry (D-Massachusetts) who hails from the old boys club of the Senate and is one of them, even if he is a Democrat. Because an old boy still prevails over a new girl, especially a black woman who hasn't risen from their ranks...because there are no black women in their ranks.
Women still have it hard, but black women have it the hardest. It's no surprise that the Republicans have never elected a black woman to Congress -- none, nada, zip -- while the Democrats have elected 44. Of that number, 43 have served in the House. Only one black woman has ever made it to the Senate: Carole Moseley Braun for just one term (1993-1999).
So the rise and fall of Susan Rice should be a cautionary tale for all of us. It's a classic play from the Republican playbook: if you're trying to harm a president and you can't thwart him any other way, go after the black woman because she will always be the weakest link. And make sure you rely on a couple of powerful bad boy bullies to deliver the cruelest blows.