Susan Rice's Voice: "Always Right on the Edge of a Screech"

What Women Really Think
Dec. 6 2012 10:08 AM

Susan Rice's Voice: "Always Right on the Edge of a Screech"

Susan Rice as she prepares to screech at Israeli U.N. Ambassador Ron Prosor

Photograph by John Moore/Getty Images.

A D.C. convention I can’t stand: The anonymous Temperament Takedown. As in this, about U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, as her prospects of being nominated for secretary of state cloud:

A longtime foreign-policy expert who has worked for Democratic administrations, and has dealt with Rice personally, also raised questions about her suitability. “She’s quite smart but temperamentally unfit for the job” because she doesn’t brook disagreement well, this expert said. “Her voice is always right on the edge of a screech. You want somebody who has a sense of authority. It’s like [Treasury Secretary Tim] Geithner at the beginning. He had no air of authority about him.”


It’s a cleverly constructed quote that walks up to the line of sexism—“right on the edge of a screech”—and then insulates itself with the Geithner comparison. The basic idea, though, is that Rice is thin skinned instead of authoritative, aggressive instead of thoughtful. It reminds me of the anonymous attacks on Justice Sonia Sotomayor (conveyed by Jeff Rosen) before Obama nominated her: “not that smart and kind of a bully on the bench,” and “domineering during oral arguments, but her questions aren’t penetrating and don’t get to the heart of the issue.” Then as now, people who had worked with the temperamentally unfit woman in question leaped to her defense.

I don’t know whether Obama should choose Rice or not, but I really hope this temperament attack isn’t part of his calculation. In a city in which Rahm Emanuel’s profane eruptions were celebrated, it’s hard not to suspect a double standard. Maybe this is just one more example of confusing personality with policy, an equal opportunity problem.

I suppose it’s true, as the anony-mouse says, that Geithner, too, got dinged for being unauthoritative before he took office. I don’t hear anyone saying that anymore. Here’s the D.C. rule I’d propose, impossible as it would ever be to enforce: No anonymous attacks on the temperament of a prospective nominee unless the person is truly a screeching banshee whose co-workers cower under their desks.

Emily Bazelon was a Slate senior editor from 2005 to 2014. She is the author of Sticks and Stones.



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

The Best Way to Organize Your Fridge


The GOP’s Focus on Fake Problems

Why candidates like Scott Walker are building campaigns on drug tests for the poor and voter ID laws.

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

Farewell! Emily Bazelon on What She Will Miss About Slate.

  News & Politics
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Sept. 16 2014 4:09 PM It’s All Connected What links creativity, conspiracy theories, and delusions? A phenomenon called apophenia.
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.