Much has been made of Condoleezza Rice's upcoming testimony before the 9-11 Commission.
In some cases, interest is based on the most logical of reasons: As the national security adviser, she should know better than anyone what happened during the Bush administration's first eight months leading up to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Otherwise, Rice has become part of a new evolving mythology surrounding the president and his womenfolk. Condi, as she's both affectionately and disaffectionately known, is viewed as the tough warrior woman come to defend her man, President George W. Bush.
Several such stories have surfaced in recent weeks as the nation breathlessly awaits her testimony Thursday. I include myself in that group. I haven't been so riveted by a public hearing since Mo Dean and the inimitable Sam Ervin lubricated the Watergate hearings with beauty and brains.
Monday's New York Times, for example, ran a story that catalogued the strong women in the president's life, beginning with his mother and including the first lady, as well as Rice and Bush adviser Karen Hughes.
All were characterized as "Valkyries," an interesting choice of iconography. Valkyries were Norse "corpse goddesses" originally represented by a carrion-eating raven. Sometime between the third and 11th centuries, they evolved into something less evocative of roadkill - depicted instead as beautiful women who welcomed the hero into the afterlife with a horn of mead.
They were also, as you might expect of Norse goddesses, blond, blue-eyed and fair-skinned.
In the Bush mythology, Condi and others are tough and strong, but more important, devoted to their man. They all know that he's the boss.
Well, yes, factually he is, but the unwritten subtext is that Mom, Laura, Karen and Condi are deferential by virtue of their fairer sex rather than by narrative, character, job description or familial affection.
Never mind that the man to whom Rice and Hughes defer holds the most powerful position in the world, or that protocol and simple manners plausibly might account for deference. The implication is that moms, wives and even advisers walk a few paces behind their man - or a few steps in front as battle strategy demands.
Buried within that subtext are layers of subliminal messages, chiefly that these women, though smart, are of the old-fashioned variety. Mother Bush of the White Pearls and Laura the Librarian are cut from the same cloth, or the same cookie cutter, if you please.
Even the tough-talking Hughes allegedly left the White House to spend more time with her family, though her current tour promoting a new book may belie the quality in her quantity time.
As for Condi, we hear, she's so devoted to the Bushes that she spends most weekends with them. A sort-of second wife, she's at the president's beck and call. Stage whisper: just like a woman should be.
On the other hand, she could be merely a dutiful national security adviser on call to a president during war.
Whatever the case, we can be fairly certain that were these same strong, accomplished women Democrats, their likenesses would be carved in bas-relief and gold-leafed over the entrance to NOW headquarters.
Notions of Rice as supporting female, even if betokenly elevated to warrior woman status, are curious given her resume and insulting to anyone who seriously believes that women are men's intellectual equals.
There would be no such lore, clearly, were the national security adviser a man. Strong, warrior stud rushes to president's rescue?
If we're going to pose Rice as Bush's second skirt, then maybe we run the whole course. Here she is, the first female national security adviser and one of the highest-ranking black females in U.S. history, about to be interrogated by a panel of mostly men. Of the 10 members of the 9-11 commission, only one is a woman.
Should the commission get rough with Rice, will Bush mount his steed and come to her rescue? More to the point, will women's groups clamor to her defense as they did for Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas hearings?
Ah, but Hill was on the "right" side of the gender divide, and Rice, though among the nation's most accomplished women, is merely on the right, which is wrong.
Perhaps Rice is a Valkyrie after all, but a newer model: beautiful, brown-eyed and dark-skinned. A carrion-eating raven feasting on the roadkill formerly known as the 9-11 commission. Horns of mead at the ready.