The Younger Condoleeza Rice

By Victor Stepien, Guest Writer

A review of her memoirs of her early life

In Extraordinary, Ordinary People: A Memoir of Family, (Crown Archetype, 2010) Condoleezza Rice, best known as former President George W. Bush’s National Security Advisor and later Secretary of State, looks at how she became who she is. At its core, this memoir is the story of her parents, John Rice, a high school guidance counselor and Presbyterian minister (and, later, university administrator), and his wife Angelena, an English teacher, who were nothing but an ordinary couple. Yet this volume shows how they shaped her on her way to becoming one of the most senior diplomats in the world at a most critical time in our history.

Despite being born in a middle-class family, Dr. Rice grew up during the Jim Crow era in Birmingham, Alabama, then referred to as ‘’Bombingham’’ because of the endemic racist violence. There, opportunities as banal as taking swimming lessons or eating in any restaurant were kept out of her way by law. Yet Dr. Rice shows how her parents managed to empower her with alternatives that would prove to be just as effective for her well-being, thanks in part to the ironic buffer that segregation provided against racism and bigotry. It is evident that they instilled in her the belief that anything was possible, and that in spite of less-than-ideal circumstances, the American Dream was very much within her grasp.

In a sense, Dr. Rice is nothing like you would expect. Rather than being a color-blind conservative, her black activism resides in the power of education, career opportunities, and prestige. She

is not a social conservative; her father was friends with black radicals, and sympathetic to the Black Panthers. She is a big football fan, and she also likes to watch sumo wrestling on television. She lived in Russia as a visiting student, and this shaped her politics dramatically. She was a registered Democrat before that trip, and became a Republican because of Ronald Reagan’s policies towards the Soviet Union. Her childhood dream was to become a concert pianist, and after she failed her music major in college, she decided to turn to foreign policy for her Masters. She is glad she changed her major, and so are we.

At the core of her story is a mélange of serendipity and hard work. Perhaps one of the most candid revelations in this book is that she is no genius, contrary to what her public image would suggest, as can be found in John Updike’s depiction of her in his 2006 novel, Terrorist. She is a self-confessed procrastinator, and has always struggled with standardized assessment tests. She is not as voracious a reader as her academic peers, and has always watched television. She is grateful for affirmative action, believing it to have helped her a great deal in her career. Coming to Stanford seems to have been the end of a series of failures that hard work could not prevent from happening. Being a failed pianist, followed by failed competitive ice-skater, made worse by her inability to find a job after college, led her to believe that there was something better out there.

This lack of complacency, coupled with determined optimism, is perhaps what propelled her to a professional life of success and fulfilment. Yet it would be a mistake to forget that in her case, this stems in part from the encouragement her parents gave her throughout this journey. She has admitted to finding writing the chapter about her mother’s untimely death from cancer when she was in her twenties the most difficult part. And the book ends with her struggle to recover from her father’s heart stroke. Her grief comes through as she can sense a ghostly presence whenever she thinks of her parents, a sign of her faith in God as a practicing Presbyterian.

In her adult life, she immerses herself in her career as assistant professor and provost at Stanford University, then as advisor to the 41st and 43rd presidents, George H.W. Bush and later George W. Bush, up until the Florida presidential election recount of 2000. As the book progresses, the reader can see that she becomes less of a dreamer, more of a pragmatist. True, she confesses to holding a grudge for years against the University of Denver for alienating and firing her father in a manner she finds unseemly. Yet she appears to have encountered a hornet’s nest with a Hispanic administrator in her own capacity as provost at Stanford. Resentment is thus slowly ebbed away, and replaced by common sense.

Perhaps her many friends and colleagues, for whom she always has a good word to say, also make up for her family. The second book – or third, if we are to take into account the young person’s version of this book – should expound the significance of her professional life at greater length. It will be the ‘’obligatory Secretary of State memoir,’’ as she puts it, opening a window into the White House and the many decisions she had to make while serving in public office. It will be sure to deal with the seminal challenges of 9/11, the Iraq War, the War on Terror and the freedom agenda of compassionate conservatism. For now, this volume is the delightful story of a little girl whose parents had big dreams for her.

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Unfounded Accusations, the Tuscon Shootings, and Inflamed Discourse

There has been much talk about the state of American political discourse after the tragic shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona. It seems natural in the wake of such an event to try to pinpoint the exact cause. Even when someone is as seemingly deranged as the shooter, Jared Loughner, many still attempt to find the trigger that sent him on his killing spree. While some have attacked the gun laws of Arizona and the state of mental health care, the greatest weight of the blame seems to have been placed on the tone of political discourse in the United States. This is not necessarily a new talking point; throughout the summer of 2010, the blogosphere, and ultimately the mainstream news media, was abuzz with concern for the “heated rhetoric” surrounding the health care and other debates.

In some portrayals, town halls seemed to be more fisticuffs instead of peaceable assemblies of citizens. The constant message from left-wing blogs of a racist, violent Tea Party tried to frame white hoods and burning crosses on the entire movement. Unsurprisingly, then, within minutes of the news that Rep. Giffords had been shot, tweets and blog posts flew about the internet holding Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and any other popular conservative figures responsible for the deaths and injuries of that day. The editorial pages were not slow to follow, either by outright playing the blame game or taking a more subtle stance of “reassessing the state of political discourse.” Unfortunately,by their rush to judgment, those criticizing the “poisonous discourse” have only inflamed the passions of those who feel — quite rightly — that they are being wrongly accused.

When someone in the media criticizes the state of discourse, it is almost always framed in the narrative of a reactionary swing to the far right, fed by demagogues on that perennial punching bag, Fox News. Tweets abound from smug commentators posting the infamous Sarah Palin target map as a smoking gun directly implicating her in this massacre. Facebook statuses on my News Feed rushed to demonize the Tea Party for supposedly turning to violence in order to make a political point. The finger pointing quickly expanded out of the blogosphere and entered editorial pages and cartoons across the country. Jeff Danziger, the noted cartoonist, sketched out an image of a gunman emerging from a tea pot while firing a gun. The New York Times’ editorial board quickly entered the fray, stating on January 11 that “it is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats, setting the nation on edge.”

Of course, the hastily-crafted judgment of the Gray Lady, among others, did nothing to cool tensions. Rather, conservative blogs were infuriated that they were being indicted for a crime without any evidence. This is a pattern that has been long in the making. In their hand-wringing moralizing over the supposedly racist, radical Tea Partiers, the editorialists and commentators have only added more fuel to the fire they claim to deplore. While there are numerous examples to pick among the accusations of racism, one might take Frank Rich’s column in the New York Times from March 27, 2010. Rich commented that “the conjunction of a black president and a female speaker of the House — topped off by a wise Latina on the Supreme Court and a powerful gay Congressional committee chairman” is the real reason behind Republican opposition to the Democratic agenda. That the Republicans actually have policy differences with the Democrats, and that these differences even have grounding in reason, seems not to have crossed Rich’s mind.

Such statements typify the attitude on the Left regarding the motivation for opposition to the Democratic agenda. In the minds of the Times’ editorial board, there cannot be any factually-based opposition to the great plans of President Obama and his fellow Democrats in Congress. They are confused why the masses that inhabit the vast region between New York City and Los Angeles are so passionately opposed to Obama’s benevolent programs. Since there is no legitimate policy-based opposition, they think this rejection can only be due to racism. What these commentators fail to realize is that the unfounded charge of racism is one of the most poisonous barbs that can be thrown in political discourse. Citizens who hold reasonable opposition to the healthcare bill or financial regulation bill are only infuriated when they are hectored about their supposed underlying racism. By linking opposition to irrational causes such as racism and other hatreds, these columnists and bloggers insult their fellow citizens and only drive them to even greater opposition.

The same reaction can be seen in the wake of the Tucson shootings. Conservatives mourned the victims and prayed for the families as much as liberals did, yet one can imagine the reaction when they are told that they have blood on their hands. Hot Air, RedState, and the rest of the right-leaning blogosphere led the defense against the initial charge of attacks from sites such as Daily Kos, along with the subsequent salvoes of the newspaper editorial boards. What resulted has not been a halcyon era of civil discourse but a tense standoff between those ready to accuse and those ready to defend.

It should also be mentioned that the cries for civility were noticeably absent in the eight years of the Bush administration. For all the talk about a dangerous political environment, one cannot find a conservative film about the assassination of President Obama. Meanwhile, Death of a President, i.e. President Bush, can be found for rental on Netflix. Even among the mainstream Democratic leadership, one could not make a speech without referring either to the hatred of Bush or the illegitimacy of his presidency. Howard Dean, perhaps not taking any lessons from his scream, made the blustery comment in 2005 that “I hate the Republicans and everything they stand for.” For all the worrying over the implications of the Birther conspiracies, there did not seem to be any hand-wringing over the jokes that Bush was placed into office illegitimately. One would hope the rejection of both the Birther conspiracies and the Florida election conspiracies would be non-partisan issues, given that both notions have no factual basis whatsoever.

Moreover, it is important to remember that the supposedly deplorable state of political commentary did not start on the day after President Obama’s inauguration. The website Reason created what might have been attack ads if television existed in 1800. The ad, taking real accusations from the election of 1800, highlighted the accusation that John Adams is trying to “import mistresses from Europe” and Jefferson’s own comment that Adams had “neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Regarding Jefferson, the advertisement stated that “murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will be openly taught and practiced” under a Jeffersonian administration. It is unlikely nowadays that anyone is as inflammatory as the pro-Adams source who asked if citizens were prepared to see “children writhing on a pike.” So much for the civil days of political discourse that supposedly once existed.

Ultimately, one must remember that the most important aspect of political discourse is truth. While ideally truth should be conveyed in a calm matter, it is hardly a sin to be passionate about an issue. Is it true that the most heated talk about FEMA internment camps or death panels (or, looking back to the Bush administration, the worries over martial law or mass election fraud) is unnecessary in discourse? Of course, but this is true principally because these talking points are simply untrue, not necessarily because they were expressed in fiery language. It is important for people not to be cruel or demonizing, but the public should be concerned about whether someone is speaking truthfully before worry about whether he is speaking nicely. Barring some groundbreaking revelation, it seems clear that neither Sarah Palin nor Fox News sent Loughner on his killing spree. It is time to stop using this tragedy as a way to score political points openly or subtly. False accusations of blame or chastisements of the public for its incivility will only further inflame the state of political discourse.

~Samuel L. Coffin

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A Vegetarian Against Vegetarianism

Calls to reduce meat consumption are needlessly sanctimonious

Harvard University Hospitality and Dining Services has historically served as a vehicle for the university’s militant moralists to peddle their various, specious ideologies. The most notable episode of this phenomenon was HUHDS’s embarrassing embrace of the fallacious dogma of the superiority of organic foods, a notion whose popularity among cultural liberals has withstood endless debunkings. It would come as a shock to no one, therefore, were HUHDS to cave to the whims of the latest dietary fad—The Harvard Meat Less initiative. This online petition, an effort spearheaded by Talia B. Lavin ’12, calls for HUHDS to serve less meat and offer more vegetarian options. As a lifelong vegetarian, I find the implications of this initiative repulsive. Admittedly, there are undeniable advantages, however overstated, that come with adopting a vegetarian lifestyle that go beyond the mere, unmerited sense of moral superiority. There are numerous health benefits, including lower fat and cholesterol levels, higher carbohydrate intake, lower blood pressure, and lower susceptibility to a variety of diseases ranging from heart disease to Alzheimer’s, that come with vegetarianism. Then there are the usual hackneyed concerns about animal cruelty and the right of humans to take the lives of animals that vegetarians oft invoke. Another argument is that of world hunger, for, as evangelical vegetarians often mention, if the sheer acreage devoted to feeding livestock were instead devoted to feeding humans, hunger would be eradicated as a human rights concern. This latter argument, of course, misattributes the culpability for food shortages in the Third World to a nonexistent supply shortage rather than market forces.

But concerns about health benefits, animal rights, and world hunger, valid or invalid as they are, are not the impetus for this particular meatless initiative. As yet another symptom of the green fever afflicting college campuses all across the United States, concern for the environment is the prime motivator for this self-righteous crusade.

Again, even here, there are some merits to the concern, as livestock production is accountable for significant reduction in topsoil, deforestation, and the eradication of numerous species of plants due to livestock grazing. Some argue that the meat production industry contributes significantly to anthropogenic global warming due to carbon emissions stemming from meat transportation; transportation of vegetables, on the other hand, are magically emissions-free.

Nonetheless, it is not the legitimacy of the concerns about a meat-based economy with respect to the environment, hunger, animal rights, and health that is in question here, for many if not all of these concerns do in fact hold water, just like the concerns about many aspects of our civilization (How much would eradicating computers reduce carbon emissions?). Even the convenience or inconvenience of students, while also a concern, is still not exceptionally relevant to this discussion, for Miss Lavin’s proposal is merely to reduce, not eradicate, Harvard’s meat consumption.

The real question is whether or not the university need be indulging in such ideological adventures as the imposition of a narrow agenda championed by what must be, with Ms. Lavin’s proposal having thus far only garnered a paltry 217 signatures, a trifling minority of its students on the rest of the student body.

The answer, in the opinion of this vegetarian, is an emphatic and indignant “No.”

“Sometimes you’ll have chicken and beef at the same meal. Who needs to eat chicken and beef in one meal?” Miss Lavin asked in an interview with the Harvard Crimson. This statement encapsulates everything that is wrong with the attitude of those advocating the deployment of HUHDS as an organ for promulgating their worldview. Regardless of Miss Lavin’s personal assessment of the virtues of consuming two or more varieties of meat in one meal, this decision is one that ought to be made by individuals, not by HUHDS, and certainly not by Miss Lavin. To say the least, any such judgment would be arbitrary. Individuals have every right to consume chicken and beef in one meal if they so choose, and it is no one’s place to tell them that they should not do so due to someone else’s disapproval.

The advisability or lack thereof of eating meat is by no stretch of the imagination a consensus, so for HUHDS to make this decision on behalf of students is exceedingly and offensively intrusive. Again, at this point, some might point out that the proposal is only to limit and not abolish access to meat on campus, but one cannot discount the fact that the purpose of such a step would be to send a message about the university’s opinion on the dietary choice of billions of people. By disincentivizing meat consumption, HUHDS would be communicating to students that those who do choose to eat meat are acting imprudently.

In some circumstances, such a judgment call is merited. For example, divesting from tyrannical regimes is a laudable approach to sending a message about human rights. But vegetarianism is hardly accepted to be a moral good; its moral superiority, which I dispute, is a matter of controversy at best. It would thus be inappropriate for HUHDS to tell its students that the vegetarian lifestyle is inherently better than the non-vegetarian lifestyle, and that adherents of the former are consequently morally superior to adherents of the latter.

As Brian N. Dai ’11 put it in the same Crimson article, “eating less meat is a decision each of us should come to by ourselves.”

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