Citing her desire to avoid a "very prolonged, very politicized, very distracting, and very disruptive" confirmation process, Susan Rice yesterday informed President Obama that she's no longer a candidate to replace Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Rice's decision comes after months of criticism over her response to the attacks on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya back in September, with Republican legislators making it clear that they were prepared to use Rice's confirmation hearings as a platform to litigate the scandal surrounding the events in Libya. Questions regarding Rice's role in policymaking during the 1990s Clinton Administration - in particular, as it pertained to the Rwandan genocide and the hunt for Osama bin Laden - may well have come up, too.
Rice may or may not have been a qualified candidate for the job of Secretary of State, and she may or may not be a victim of the inherent political nastiness that characterizes Washington, DC. One thing's for certain, however: Susan Rice is a female of African-American descent, and it thus didn't take long for various media outlets to bring up the issues of race and gender.
The editorial board of The Washington Post, for instance, wondered:
Could it be, as members of the Congressional Black Caucus are charging, that the signatories of the letter are targeting Ms. Rice because she is an African American woman? The signatories deny that, and we can’t know their hearts. What we do know is that more than 80 of the signatories are white males, and nearly half are from states of the former Confederacy.
Of course, the suggestion that any white male from the Deep South is a racist misogynist - at least until proven otherwise - is not itself the least bit racist or sexist...is it? Apparently not. In the eyes of the Post, however, Rice's downfall could not simply be the result of either her own incompetence or of simply being in the wrong place at the wrong political moment.
I am confident that the individuals who comprise the editorial board of The Washington Post and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) are not racists or sexists, and that they would object to anyone who tried to characterize them in this way. Strangely enough, however, these folks are quick to ascribe such sinister motivations to other people, even in the absence of any confirming evidence.
After all, has any opponent of Susan Rice's nomination stated - or even implied - that he or she opposed Rice as Secretary of State simply based of Rice's race or gender? Rice is obviously a black female, but it does not automatically follow that any and all doubts about her ability must be rooted in racial or sexual animus.
The kerfuffle surrounding Rice's nomination has brought to the front of my mind an issue that has long troubled me - specifically, the seemingly innate tendency of humans to see in others the sort of ignoble intent that we do not believe to exist in ourselves. Much like the folks at the Post and the CBC, I don't consider myself to be motivated by any sense of racial resentment (indeed, a person's skin color is usually the least interesting thing about him or her), but neither do I consider myself to be especially enlightened or noble. Why, then, would I simply presume others to be guilty of such malevolence?
My suggestion, then, is this: in any debate or discussion - political, economic, social, religious, whatever - you will always do yourself a favor if you choose to confront your opponent's strongest possible argument (even if they don't always directly make it themselves) and, further, if you assume that your opponent is motivated by the best possible intentions. Don't assume, for example, that simply because your interlocutor is critical of Barack Obama's economic policies or his nominee for a certain cabinet position that your fellow debater must therefore hate black people and wish only to perpetuate a system of white privilege. In a debate over such policies, both sides will be better served if they assume that each person truly wants the best for all citizens and if they then proceed to discuss how best to achieve that outcome. Not only will such an approach yield a more enlightening conversation, it will also do your brain some good as you find yourself forced to deal with an argument of more nuance and detail than simply "he hates black people."