Friday, March 18, 2011

How Sarah Palin & Michele Bachmann Made Me Re-assess Condi Rice

When President George W. Bush appointed Dr. Condoleezza Rice, to become the new Secretary of State in January of 2005, I was mad as hell.  I too had grown up in a black Republican family, but had parted company with the GOP when the liberal wing of the party collapsed.  Condi Rice was by all accounts an intelligent, well-educated and multi-talented  woman.   However, having been instrumental in the decision-making that led to the disastrous war in Iraq, Rice’s performance in my estimation was not that of a geo-political strategist at work.  It was rather that of a woman, who was soulless and lost, the empty clatter of wooden shutters hitting the sides of an abandoned house.  Her loyalty to the Bush family also nettled me.  Rice spent holidays at their home, entertaining them with her classical music playing on the piano.  In one unguarded moment, the new Secretary of State  even referred to President Bush as her “husb---“.  This woman was too much the loyal court retainer.   
 I can now look back on those times and recognize that my disgust with Rice emanated from romantic stereotypes about black women that were in many ways as rigid as the negative ones of welfare queens and loud-talking jezebels, still floating around the larger society.  I had unwittingly infused all black women with “soul.”   Those who had the opportunity to become educated were supposed to operate from ways of knowing that grounded intellectual pretensions in the cross-rhythms of the body and soul.  They were supposed to pierce society’s self-deceptions to see the world as it was rather than as it pretended to be, but do so with humanity.    

Then Alaska governor, Sarah Palin, entered the political arena, as John McCain’s running mate in the 2008  presidential election campaign. An incurious and inarticulate woman, Palin’s public persona was that of a photogenic former beauty queen, spouting the angry rhetoric of grievance and victimhood.   I shuddered at the unfolding melodrama of Palin’s pregnant, unmarried daughter,  the family’s public squabbles with the “baby’s daddy,” who posed semi-nude for Playgirl Magazine, the future mother-in-law being arrested on felony drug charges.  All I could say was “thank God, this Palin woman’s not black!” 

The media has now turned its focus to attention-grabbing Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, from Minnesota’s 6th district.   She has been an outspoken critic of public education, President Barack Obama, whom she called “anti-American,” and now First Lady Michelle Obama for touting the health advantages of breast-feeding.  Bachmann, who may be running for president, said in an Iowa speech last month that the founding fathers had abolished slavery, having somehow misplaced the Civil War in her personal narrative of American history.  In New Hampshire, last week, the Congresswoman confused the history of that state with Massachusetts, proclaiming: “You’re the state where the show was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord.”

Given the entrance of Palin and Bachmann onto the political scene, I have come to reassess my attitudes about Condi Rice, and thankfully shed my own narrow, controlling image about how black women should be.  Yes, we disagreed.  But Rice was at least a competent National Security Adviser, and later Secretary of State, who performed her duties with polish and professionalism.  It is all the more regrettable that the political successes of the women’s movement that allowed Madeleine Albright,Condoleezza Rice and Hilary Clinton, to realize such powerful positions in successive Administrations, also created opportunities for two of the most shallow female politicians of our times, to become the most talked about and recognized.   
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