Condi Rice — From Failed Functionary To Candidate

During the weekly podcast, Nick predicted there would be one speaker during this convention that would leave conservative commentators grumbling that Mitt Romney made the wrong choice with Paul Ryan. It’s hard to imagine any speaker making a better case for their selection for the vice-presidential slot than Condi Rice did last night.

Rice stepped onstage as the Republican Party’s most experienced foreign policy voice. Crippling America’s foreign standing is, technically “experience,” I suppose. But even within the GOP, a foreign policy guru who served as one of the architects of two unpopular wars left her standing permanently in doubt. She was something of a tin pot Henry Kissinger.

By the time Rice left the stage, she had broadened her portfolio substantially. After initially focusing on foreign policy and attempting – valiantly – to put lipstick on the pig of Bush-era foreign affairs, Rice shifted toward the domestic and built credibility for herself as an all-around political figure.

To Chris Christie – This is how to deliver a speech that elevates your personal profile without droning on about yourself for 20 minutes.

The speech opens, as do many Republican foreign policy diatribes, by reminding us all that 9/11 happened. The imagery is grabbing without melodrama. Then, in the same paragraph she says:

Then in 2008 the global financial and economic crisis stunned us and still reverberates as unemployment, economic uncertainty and failed policies cast a pall over the American recovery so desperately needed at home and abroad.

It’s a testament to her speaking style that she does this in the first 30 seconds of the speech without making it obvious that she has provided the perfect bookends of the Bush presidency – a major security breach that remained unresolved 7 years later, followed by a massive economic meltdown.

Rice contends that the world does not know the answer to “Where does America stand?” This question is a convenient rhetorical device that can help her string together the next few paragraphs. For the rest of her remarks on foreign policy, the audience frames the speech through the lens that foreign policy used to be clear and now is muddled.

Substantively this is laughable, of course. The United States has an unambiguously clear policy that is remarkably similar to policy of the previous administration – except effective. For example, George W. Bush and Condi Rice believed Iran was bad, Obama and Clinton have boxed in Iran with more measures in one term than the previous administration mustered in 8 years. Bush and Rice believed terrorists were a threat so they went to war in Iraq, Obama and Clinton just went ahead and started killing terrorists.

But the lack of substantive value to Rice’s question is what renders it so effective. As opposed to outright lies about Obama’s foreign policy achievements, Rice casts doubt. It’s just as effective and won’t get her in as much trouble with the fact-checkers.

I know too that it has not always been easy – though 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.

The woman beheaded for “witchcraft” by our “good friend” Saudi Arabia, the gay man executed by the state in Uganda…oh. Yeah Rice’s vision of foreign policy is not really based on speaking up for those without voices as much as it’s about cherry-picking dissidents in countries we have other geopolitical issues with.

Rice acknowledges Mitt Romney by name a mere couple of minutes into her speech. We’re looking at you Chris Christie.

China has apparently negotiated many more trade agreements over the last four years than the United States. Having the most developed trade network in the world leaves very little room for further expansion.

But trade marks the beginning of Rice’s subtle shift away from foreign policy and into domestic policy. Next up is energy policy and the need to tap domestic sources. And now it’s all about the economy.

Frankly this is what a Keynote Address should sound like – a wide-ranging review of the broad principles that the Republican Party aspires to translate into governance. The “answers” she supplies are vague and often at odds with the actual legislative priorities of the Republican Party, but that doesn’t matter in a Keynote Address.

Condi Rice explains that there is a crisis in K-12 education because she can look at a student’s zip code and tell whether or not the kid will do well in life. This is a stunning admission. It’s a testament to how well this speech is going that the hall didn’t boo her for suggesting that poor kids deserve good education. After all, this is the Party that believes in devolution of education spending to the individual school district – pretty hard to argue that poor neighborhoods deserve more in that model.

Oh. Never mind. Rice explains that the problems facing these students are “lax standards and false praise.” Does she think poor schools are the only ones giving trophies for trying? Pretty sure the whole “massive defunding while building a society based upon de facto segregation” had something to do with it. She also mentions school choice – an empirically debunked program (though a new study is out defending the program, the data set doesn’t back the conclusions) that rests upon the foundation that “good” schools have limitless capacity to take on all the students from failing schools. I was pretty sure no one even mentioned this idea in polite company anymore.

After Day 1, where every speaker basically opened up with “here’s my personal story and why I’m not completely a detached rich guy,” Rice saves her personal story for the end. It marks the full-arc of the speech. Condi Rice has moved from a failed foreign policy relic of an administration that the Republicans have avoided mentioning as if it were the Voldemort administration, to being a domestic voice, to being a candidate with the bio of a real person.

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