The XX Factor

White Male Anger Finds an Outlet in Susan Rice

Susan Rice.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

As Fred Kaplan recently explained, the John McCain-led attack on Susan Rice as the nominee for secretary of state is baffling, both from a policy and a politics standpoint. McCain and Lindsay Graham’s feigned objections are so transparently political that they no longer carry any actual political value (and suggest that the two men are so filled with ugly, personal animus toward Rice and Obama that they don’t even know it). Now Ruth Marcus in the Washington Post addresses concerns that Republicans are attacking Rice because she’s a black woman, which Marcus sort-of-doesn’t but sort-of-does think is happening: 

A woman, after all, has been secretary of state for all but four of the last 16 years; during the interregnum, the job was held by a black man. 

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be a factor: 

But to note the progress women have made is not to say that the problem of sexism has been erased. It persists in the shadows of consciousness.

Perhaps it’s these shadows that prompted House Republicans to appoint all those white guys to committee chairmanships.

Conservatives require the same level of proof of racism or sexism that they do of climate change (which is to say there is no level of proof that satisfies), so Marcus’ nuance will be rejected out of hand. After all, you can’t be racist or sexist if you like Condoleezza Rice. Some of John McCain’s best friends are Condoleezza Rice. Marcus suggests that the problem, such as it exists, might be Susan Rice herself, in that her rather blunt personality runs up against expectations that women be soft and warm. But again, Condi is hardly warm and fuzzy, as anyone who has seen one of her more blood-soaked, hawkish speeches can attest. 

The reality is that racism and sexism can be one of many factors in a stew of motivations. Republicans just lost a big election that many of them convinced themselves they were going to win, and it’s come out that their only voters are white men and their wives. Then Obama turns around and offers up a black woman as secretary of state. For Republicans that are already in a heightened state of fear that the era of white male dominance is sliding, the entire sequence of events is setting off a nasty reaction. It’s not just that Rice is a black woman. It’s that she’s a black woman and it’s right after the election and she’s a Democrat and she was at the center of the Fox News/Republican Party’s last ditch effort at pulling out a Romney win via Benghazi.

Also, if she gets the office, she’ll likely make it 20 years since a white man has held the position, suggesting that women and racial minorities finally are escaping token status. In a lot of ways, Rice is simply standing in the wrong place at the wrong time: in front of a whole lot of anger.