It’s official. I am one of the only people in America who didn’t love the Condoleezza Rice RNC speech.
Indeed, Rice’s address on the third day of the Republican National Convention Wednesday received a rapturous reception from the assembled delegates, and from pundits. In fact, but for some grousing about a bit of lipstick on her teeth, I’ve heard nothing but praise for the former secretary of state’s presentation.
On the upside, the speech was beautifully written and well delivered (even if the opening lines were a painful reminder of the part Rice played in an administration that missed the blatant signals preceding the 9/11 terror attacks — I think the presidential daily brief was titled, “Bin Laden Determined To Attack the United States?..”) But it was on the subjects of race, segregation, and the new favorite Republican buzzwords, “envy” and “grievance,” that Rice’s words truly left me cold.
The nation’s first black female national security adviser and secretary of state made soaring references to what really is the genius of America: the fact that what “really unites us — is not ethnicity, or nationality or religion – it is an idea — and what an idea it is: That you can come from humble circumstances and do great things. That it doesn’t matter where you came from but where you are going.” On that, I join the “Amen” chorus.
She revisited her statement that the country overcame the “birth defect of slavery and segregation” — which, when she made it years ago, caused conservatives to erupt in anger. But not this time — this time, they roared in approval.
Toward the end of her speech, Rice told the crowd, and the nation: “on a personal note – a little girl grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham – the most segregated big city in America — her parents can’t take her to a movie theater or a restaurant – but they make her believe that even though she can’t have a hamburger at the Woolworth’s lunch counter — she can be president of the United States and she becomes the Secretary of State.”
Her references to America’s diversity and historic promise certainly resonated inside the Tampa Bay Forum, and she received thunderous applause from the crowd.
Though I was there as an observer, not a participant, I found myself incredibly uncomfortable, standing amid that roaring, overwhelmingly white crowd, as they reveled in hearing a black woman, whose childhood friend was one of the four young girls killed in the infamous firebombing of a Birmingham church in 1963, seem to excuse historic wrongs to further the unending conservative mission of patting America on the back.
She then immediately added this:
“Ours has never been a narrative of grievance and entitlement. We have not believed that I am doing poorly because you are doing well. We have not been envious of one another and jealous of each other’s success. Ours has been a belief in opportunity and a constant battle – long and hard — to extend the benefits of the American dream to all – without regard to circumstances of birth.”