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October 22, 2005

Condoleezza Rice on 'The power of righteousness'

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Today's New York Times features Steven R. Weisman's account of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's powerful speech yesterday at the University of Alabama.

Rice, home in her native state, touched all the right notes in her stealth campaign for the presidency in 2008.

Highlights:

"I don't want to run for office, but that doesn't mean some of you can't" — to a dozen children at Brunetta C. Hill Elementary School in Birmingham, where she attended classes until she was 11.

Weisman noted that until 1953, a year before Rice was born, it was called the Graymont Colored School.

Said Rice in Tuscaloosa: "Across the empire of Jim Crow, from upper Dixie to the lower Delta, the descendants of slaves shamed our nation with the power of righteousness, and redeemed America at last from its original sin of slavery."

Does that sound like someone who "doesn't want to run for office?"

Not to me: rather, it evokes Abraham Lincoln with its bold reach, eloquence and power.

I wonder if she writes her own speeches; I bet the answer is yes.

Shades of "the great communicator": in the introduction to her speech at the University of Alabama, with the huge Tennessee v Alabama game on tap, Rice, a fanatical football fan, brought forth a huge wave of applause and laughter when she said, "The Tide is gonna roll, roll, roll."

Here's Weisman's story.

    Rice, in Alabama, Draws Parallels for Democracy Everywhere

    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in an unusual evocation on Friday of her own past to make a point about the contemporary world, visited the segregated school that she attended and the university where Gov. George Wallace barred the door to blacks, declaring that Alabama had progressed by "light years" since those days.

    It was a dramatic setting for her message, repeated for months in Muslim countries and elsewhere, often in the face of considerable skepticism: it is possible for Iraq and other societies to throw off their legacies of violence and oppression to become viable democracies.

    "Across the empire of Jim Crow, from upper Dixie to the lower Delta, the descendants of slaves shamed our nation with the power of righteousness, and redeemed America at last from its original sin of slavery," Ms. Rice said in a speech at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

    She was accompanied by the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw.

    "By resolving the contradiction at the heart of our democracy, America finally found its voice as a true champion of democracy beyond its shores," Ms. Rice went on, criticizing skeptics who doubt that democracy is possible in the Muslim world for repeating the errors that whites had made about blacks in the civil rights struggles in the United States.

    In returning to the place of her childhood, Ms. Rice was dipping into American domestic issues for the second time in recent weeks.

    Among other things, she found that schoolchildren in Alabama were just as interested in whether she would run for public office someday as Sunday talk-show hosts were in Washington. (She also visited hurricane victims last month in the New Orleans area.)

    "I don't want to run for office, but that doesn't mean some of you can't," Ms. Rice told a dozen children at the library of Brunetta C. Hill Elementary School in Birmingham, where she attended classes until the age of 11.

    She said that it was the first time she had visited the school since then.

    Until 1953, a year before Ms. Rice was born, the school's name was the Graymont Colored School.

    Organized by her staff, the day was intended to go beyond the weight of the past and to underscore Birmingham's emergence as an educational and medical center with a visit to the university's medical school.

    She spoke at an audience of the Blackburn Institute, named after a mentor of her father's, John L. Blackburn, who was in the audience.

    The institute is a kind of honor society at the University of Alabama, but as Ms. Rice noted afterward, the loudest applause came when Coach Mike Shula of the university football team, the Crimson Tide, gave her and Mr. Straw autographed footballs.

    They plan to attend Saturday's game between undefeated Alabama and Tennessee.

    Indeed Ms. Rice, a fanatical football fan - she once had herself awakened in the middle of the night in Jerusalem to watch the end of a Super Bowl game - punctuated her speech introduction with "The Tide is gonna roll, roll, roll," to huge laughter and applause.

    The serious part of Ms. Rice's message seemed aimed at multiple audiences.

    In an interview before the trip, the secretary said she had wanted to travel more with foreign envoys out of Washington to show them the country and get to know them better.

    Mr. Straw, she said, was a good choice because his parliamentary constituency in northern England is now 25 percent Muslim.

    She said that whenever she mentioned to audiences around the world that the United States did not mean to lecture other countries about democracy because its own history was flawed, "it's been appreciated."

    "I think of it as not talking about myself but talking about me as an example of a very American story," Ms. Rice said.

    "It helps to bridge this sense that when we talk about democracy or democratic promotion, that we're somehow lecturing."

    Interspersed during the day with Mr. Straw was the serious business of discussions about Syria and plans to take up the new accusations in a United Nations investigation of Syrian involvement in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri of Lebanon.

    But most of the time it was an occasion for Ms. Rice to talk about herself, about the South and about democracy.

    She spoke of "impatient patriots" who brought democracy to the South, to former Communist countries after the end of the cold war and to Asia and Latin America.

    "Now is not the time to falter or fade," Ms. Rice said at the university.

    "We must remain confident, as one American abolitionist was, that 'the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.'"

But don't take my word for it: watch and listen to Rice's speech here.

October 22, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


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