Condoleezza Rice’s speech at the Republican National Convention Wednesday night reminded me a lot of the feelings I have about the woman herself. If I simply ignore actual history and gloss over the facts, there’s a lot there to like.
For starters, she’s the first black female Secretary of State. Now, let me put aside for a moment my feelings about the guy she was working for at the time. God knows I wouldn’t want to be judged by my association with some of my past bosses. (I fully endorse, however, any and all associations with my current one).
As the President’s chief foreign policy advisor, the Secretary of State is among the most powerful, visible, and influential people on the planet. Should the President be unable to do the job, the Secretary of State is the fourth person on the list of succession to take his or her place.
And for four years, that person was a black woman. I couldn’t help but feel proud when she got the gig during George W. Bush’s second term.
But let’s put her political career aside for a moment. Secretary Rice is so much more than her ridiculously impressive resume. She’s also an accomplished concert pianist, poster-woman for ladies who dig football, loves shopping, and she allegedly has a mean shoe game.
Game recognize game. That’s my kinda girl. (Or she would be, if I could somehow divorce that Condoleezza Rice from the Condoleezza Rice who holds such an infamous place in American history.)
That shoe-shopping habit? When it was revealed that she was was in New York, taking in a Broadway show and shopping for Ferragamo shoes in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina – while thousands in New Orleans were left by the Bush administration to fend for themselves against winds and floodwaters released into their city by broken levees – it was not a good look.
Our nation fought a war in Iraq for over eight years on that lie. Thousands of soldiers and Iraqi civilians died for that lie. Billions of taxpayer dollars drained out of the U.S. economy, based on that lie.
You’d think that details would matter to Secretary Rice, who spoke to our Andrea Mitchell after her speech and dodged a question about The Lie. Although she’d just given a beautiful speech on Thursday night at the RNC, the devil was in the details of what she didn’t say.
As encouragement to her audience that the men on the GOP ticket are up to tackling the challenges that face our nation, she offered this shortcut through great triumphs in American history. Then she ties the entire thing up in a neat bow with her own personal narrative:
Whenever you find yourself a doubting us, just think about all those times that America made impossible seem inevitable in retrospect… a civil war, brother against brother, hundreds of thousands dead on both sides, but we emerged a more perfect union. A second founding when impatient patriots were determined to overcome the birth defect of slavery and the scourge of segregation. A long struggle against communism with the Soviets even – the Soviet Union’s collapse and in the aftermath of 9/11, the willingness to take hard, hard decisions that toward us and prevented the follow on attack that everybody thought preordained.
And on a personal note, a little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham. The segregated city of the South where her parents cannot take her to a movie theater or to restaurants, but they have convinced that even if she cannot have it hamburger at Woolworth’s, she can be the President of the United States if she wanted to be, and she becomes the Secretary of State.
Let’s be clear. Slavery and segregation were not some random abnormality of America’s birth. On the contrary, it is through the institution of slavery that America was born. Indeed, the very foundations of our national economy can be traced back to slavery, which attributed a market value to human beings amounting to nearly $4 billion in today’s dollars.
Secretary Rice’s hopscotch through history not only creates a speed bump out of what is in fact the road, it also detaches that past from our present. Yes, we did away with slavery and the scourge of Jim Crow, but not the systemic white privilege that was endemic to both, and that continues to fester in the racial and economic disparities that still plague our country today.
And adding her own American success story to her list of inevitable impossibilities, she pulls her own version of Clint Eastwood’s “disappearing” act. She substitutes her own story of Black achievement as the end point to her abbreviated history of America’s struggles with race: She grew up in Jim Crow; she experienced segregation; she became Secretary of State. Black Americans have overcome. The end.
It’s Dr. Rice’s own version of Eastwood’s magic tragic. Poof! President Obama disappears. And poof! So, too, do the black Americans who failed to navigate the gauntlet of America’s systemic racism as as successfully as she has.
That fairy tale is a neat little narrative to spoon-feed an audience that was almost entirely devoid of any diversity, and who spent the entire convention fattening itself on the all too convenient untruth about what, exactly they “built” in this country.
But then again maybe I’m just jealous and wishing I were as easily able to dupe myself into that kind of magical thinking. Because then I’d “Poof!” Condoleezza Rice out of infamy and into the history-making, NFL-loving, shoe addict that I wish she really was.
See below Melissa’s “Did She Just Say That” today about the many women speakers featured at the Republican National Convention.