Condoleeza Rice brings down the house

August 29, 2012

Condoleezza Rice added a dollop of star power to the evening's proceedings with a call to tell the world "where America stands" that mixed the exceptionalism rhetoric of the Bush administration, some soaring reminders of the country's immigrant past and civil rights obligations, an academic lecture about trade agreements and a reminder about the obligations of leadership.

Almost as an aside, she assured cheering delegates that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have the answers.

Many of Rice's themes echoed the red meat offered by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) two hours earlier -- the need for U.S. strength in an uncertain and dangerous world -- but delivered more as a policy speech than a political rallying cry. Without mentioning the incumbent president, his policies or perceived failings, she warned that "we cannot be reluctant to lead, and you cannot lead from behind."

Delegates stopped roaming the aisles and chatting with their neighbors to pay attention as Rice brought them to their feet with lines such as, "We must work for an open global economy and pursue free and fair trade to grow our exports and our influence abroad." In the past three years, she told them, the United States had ratified only three trade agreements, while China had signed 15.

Parts of her speech were reminiscent more of Obama than of Romney. "The essence of America--that which really unites us--is not ethnicity, or nationality or religion," she said, "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."
Education, she said, "is the civil rights struggle of our day." Immigration laws should "protect our borders" and "meet our economic needs," but should also "show that we are a compassionate people."

Rice was eloquent on the burdens of leadership and the need to pay attention to the rest of the world at a time of deep domestic concern. "I know that it has not always been easy, but it has been rewarding to speak up for those who would otherwise be without a voice --  the religious dissident in China, the democracy advocate in Venezuela, the political prisoner in Iran. It has been hard to muster the resources to support fledgling democracies, or to help the world's most desperate." She spoke of war weariness, that "it feels that we have carried these burdens long enough."

But, she said, "we do not have a choice."

As the only top member of the Bush administration to have a prominent role at the convention--or in the Romney campaign--Rice seems to have dropped all the baggage of that administration's foreign policy difficulties. Although she has said she has no interest in either elective politics or a role in a new administration, could those cheers be a siren call to both Rice, and Romney? 

Read her full speech here

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