Was Obama's defense of Susan Rice sexist?

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President Barack Obama answers questions at a news conference in the East Room of the White House on Nov. 14.
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President Barack Obama answers questions at a news conference in the East Room of the White House on Nov. 14.

The president gave a spirited defense of his U.N. ambassador's handling of questions on Benghazi. Should he have let her stand up for herself?

President Obama didn't take kindly to threats by Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham to stand in his way if he nominates U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of State, says Kirsten Powers at Fox News. At his big news conference this week, Obama slammed McCain and Graham for saying Rice's handling of the immediate aftermath of the deadly Sept. 11 Libya attack disqualified her. Initially, Rice, citing intelligence reports, said the assault that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans appeared to have been a spontaneous outburst of violence rather than a planned terrorist strike. Administration accounts have changed since then, prompting cries of a cover-up from the Right. "If Sen. McCain and Sen. Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me," Obama said. How strange, says Powers, to see the president striking such a sexist pose, casting his U.N. ambassador "as some delicate flower the boys should stop picking on for her dissembling claims."

There is no damsel in distress and Obama's paternalistic bravado in defense of a top administration official is going to come back to haunt him... Imagine George Bush saying that people criticized John Bolton because he was an "easy target." He wouldn't.

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It's absurd and chauvinistic for Obama to talk about the woman he thinks should be Secretary of State of the United States as if she needs the big strong man to come to her defense because a couple of Senators are criticizing her.... The conceit of Obama's argument is that people are picking on a helpless girl — a lowly U.N. ambassador — because they are afraid of the big bad president.

Nice try, says Ed Kilgore at Washington Monthly, but there's nothing sexist about "calling out Republican bullying — and that's what it was — of an administration official who happens to be a woman. [Obama] never said, implied, or hinted that Rice's gender had a thing to do with his defense of her. So this is apparently 'sexism' because Kirstin Powers says it is." The reality is she's just a faux-feminist Fox trots out periodically to besmirch the left as hypocritical. She did the same thing last spring, after Rush Limbaugh's smearing of Sandra Fluke, "by arguing that liberal men were piggy-piggy, too." She's trying to suggest, unbelievably, that the folks at Fox and in WingnutLand are the ones who "are dedicated to the advancement of women."

The real hypocrite here is McCain, says Glenn Kessler at The Washington Post. After Condoleezza Rice was criticized for justifying the Iraq invasion with bogus claims about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, McCain defended her by saying she was misled by bad intelligence reports. Now he's vilifying Susan Rice for doing the same thing. Not only that, but Condi Rice was "central to the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq, whereas Susan Rice, as U.N. ambassador, appears to be on the periphery on Libya... She was essentially acting as an administration spokeswoman, apparently using words crafted by the CIA, to describe what was — and still is — a murky situation." It's perfectly legitimate to confront the administration — "and especially the president" — for appearing "suspiciously reluctant to label the attack an act of terrorism." It really was "unsporting," though, of McCain and Obama's other GOP critics to take out their frustrations on Rice.

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