Was Boxer Being Patronizing to Condi?

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At the hearings for Condoleeza Rice's nomination for Secretary of State, Senator Barbara Boxer said the following:

Dr. Rice, I was glad you mentioned Martin Luther King -- it was very appropriate, given everything.

Maybe this slipped most people's radar because of her offensive comments later on, particularly her flat-out assertions that Rice had made repeated claims to the American people that she knew were far from the truth. This was one of the few clips they kept playing on the cable news channels as a sign of the congenial part of Boxer's advising and not consenting. Not one person saw it as condescending or patronizing. Should they have? I think it depends on what 'everything' refers to, but the most obvious answers seem patronizing to me.

Here are some options:

A. It was appropriate given that she's black.
B. It was appropriate given that she's experienced serious racism in her past.
C. It was appropriate given her location at the time King was most politically active.
D. It was appropriate given the time of year we're in now.
E. It was appropriate given some combination of the above.
F. It was appropriate given [pause ... I can't think of anything to say here that's not patronizing, so I'll say] everything.

I think we can see F as hiding something that she knew sounded patronizing, which isn't that good. E depends on what the components are. A and B seem the most patronizing to me. They assume, as far as I can tell, that someone like Rice might not like King because he was liberal, which is just nuts and insulting to all black conservatives. It's as if she's surprised that someone who is black and faced racism but also conservative would mention King in such a way. "Oh, it's good that you at least realize that black people should like King".

C isn't as bad, but it's close enough to B that I'm not sure it avoids the patronizing feel. The only one of these that I can get a grip on as not sounding condescending in any way is D. But I can't think of why she would abbreviate D with 'everything'. I don't think putting any of these together helps, because that just heaps insult upon insult, so E isn't any better.

I'm trying to be charitable, but I can't think of anything else. If it's F, then she might have been going to say something like A, B, or C, realized that it sounded patronizing, and replaced it with 'everything'. That makes sense to me but indicates that she wasn't thinking very carefully and barely caught herself. I'm not having an easy time coming up with a more charitable reading than any of these. Any thoughts?

Update: I forgot one of the ones I'd been thinking about.

G. It was appropriate given that you're conservative.

Since that has the same result as some I've already discussed, I think it's safe to assume that it would be patronizing.

4 Comments

Jeremy,

Setting aside the King remark, I don't understand this at all:

Maybe this slipped most people's radar because of her offensive comments later on, particularly her flat-out assertions that Rice had made repeated claims to the American people that she knew were far from the truth.

What exactly made these assertions offensive? Rice has made assertions about Iraq that either are lies or display gross incompetence. Charity given the context (in Washington everyone is a bit liberal with truth so better to be called a liar than a fool) seems to demand this.

Rice made assertions about what the sources they thought were the best intelligence was indicating, even if it was incomplete and even if other sources that they thought less reliable had conflicting information.

When the Senate is examining someone, how should they do it? Should they assume the person is lying, or should they first listen to the explanation the person will give as to why it wasn't a lie. I think the latter is obvious. Boxer did the former before Rice had even had a chance to respond, and she kept interrupting her to say she was a liar in the middle of her sentences. It was terribly rude, and I think the way I described it is accurate.

Here are the specific things she said Rice lied about during her first questioning session. I'm not including the ones that are so general that they depend entirely on the others.

Starting from this page:

Boxer: "And you say they have less territory; that's not true. Your own documents show that Al Qaida has expanded from 45 countries in '01 to more than 60 countries today."

She wasn't counting countries but was dealing with something more to do with strategic locations. This is her response: "Now, as to the statement about territory and the terrorist groups, I was referring to the fact that the Al Qaida organization of Osama bin Laden, which once trained openly in Afghanistan, which once ran with impunity in places like Pakistan, can no longer count on hospitable territory from which to carry out their activities. In the places where they are, they are being sought and run down and arrested and pursued in ways that they never were before."

Boxer: "Now, perhaps the most well-known statement you've made was the one about Saddam Hussein launching a nuclear weapon on America with the image of quote, quoting you, a mushroom cloud. That image had to frighten every American into believing that Saddam Hussein was on the verge of annihilating them if he was not stopped."

How does using the image of a mushroom cloud count as saying Saddam was on the verge of annihilating us? All it carries is the enormity of the eventually effect. It doesn't say anything about when that might be.

Then she claims that "Nobody ever said that it was going to be the next year" is inconsistent with Bush's statement "If the Iraqi regime is able to produce, buy or steal an amount of highly enriched uranium a little longer than a single softball, it could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year." This is pretty stupid, since saying that it could be within a year (with an obviously epistemic reading for 'could') is not equivalent to saying it will be within a year. She then proceeded to pretend Rice's statement really was that no one had ever said it even could be within a year, even though she'd already quoted her directly as saying something different. Then she mentions a statement of Rice in agreement with the one from Bush, which of course is consistent with all the others.

I think what Rice said at this point to Boxer was entirely appropriate: "Senator, I have to say that I have never, ever lost respect for the truth in the service of anything. It is not my nature. It is not my character. And I would hope that we can have this conversation and discuss what happened before and what went on before and what I said, without impugning my credibility or my integrity."

Then Boxer moved on to the old canard that Bush and his people had never meant any reason for the war besides WMD, despite all the record to the contrary, which Rice promptly corrected her on. His threat to the region and his welcoming of terrorists and even financial relations with them with respect to Israel were part of the argument from the outset. The freedom of the Iraqi people was also part of it from the beginning. It wasn't emphasized at the UN because they themselves don't recognize that argument, as their unwillingness to get behind Kosovo showed.

Boxer then pretended that none of that stuff was in the Senate resolution that her colleagues had signed, which is just false. It was in there. Bloggers have pointed that out enough that I'm not going to continue.

It's fairly obvious that Senator Boxer was trying to manipulate Rice's statements to mean something they didn't mean, claiming contradictions when there weren't any, stating her own falsehoods (most obviously about the content of the Senate resolution and the content of Bush's statements all along about the different motivations). She ignored the complexities of the situation, particularly the fact that this was a situation thay the best intelligence indicated involved a clear sense of danger with no easy sense of how far along he might be in pursuing those programs. We know now that he wasn't as far along as they had reason to believe but that the only thing keeping him from quick progress was the sanctions that so many people wanted to remove and that his allies in France, Germany, and Russia were making less effective anyway. The threat was real, even if their conclusions based on what they thought was the best intelligence do not match what we now believe.

I really do think Senator Boxer embarassed herself in this hearing, and I think Rice's answers showed how dumb many of her challenges and questions really were. It wasn't so much how stupid they were, though. It's that she was using such silliness to impugn Rice's motives and claim that she wasn't interested in the truth.

Jeremy, this is completely off-topic, but I wanted to draw your attention to http://theconservativephilosopher.blogspot.com, a new blog started by AnalPhilosopher. He's managed to recruit eleven other Ph.D. philosophers who identify themselves as politically conservative. That's quite a feat, given how much to the left the academy leans.

Going off-topic once again, your students might find the following charts useful in studying meta-ethics.

http://www.csun.edu/~dp56722/chart.pdf
http://www.csun.edu/~dp56722/glossary.pdf

I do think the King remark was completely condescending and insulting and I didn't pass over it at all when I was listening.... it was blatant! Boxer seemed to act like she was trying to teach Rice a little something about King because, as we all know, only "real blacks" truly understand him.

Condi had the SELF RESPECT to stand up for her own integrity right at that point in the questioning. So... who was more "King-like" afterall? Hmmm?

She was way ahead of Boxer's line of thinking and definitely a cut above for class and attitude. Details are important, but they really need some kind of substance.

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