Presidential Aide and Educator
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“ My fellow Amerricans, I’m pleased to tgell you to-day that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever; We begin bombing in just five minutes.”
Ronald Reagan--------- (Joking while testing a microphone - - August 1984.)
Y OU MIGHT THINK THAT IN ORDER TO BECOME A TOP GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL and a professor, a person must attend expensive prep schools and prestigious universities.
Not so. Professor Condoleezza Rice (age thirty-eight) is a black woman who spent her childhood in Birmingham, Alabama, where she attended segregated schools. She grew up to become one of President George Bush’s top advisors for Soviet affairs (from 1988 to 1991) and a top-rated professor at Stanford University. She is currently the provost of Stanford University—its second-highest administrative position.
As special assistant to the president for national-security affairs and senior director for Soviet affairs for the National Security Council, Rice hobnobbed with Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and George Bush when the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet Union fell apart. How did this black woman from Alabama who wanted to be a concert pianist rise to such a lofty position? And what is her interpretation of the fall of communism? In this chapter, Rice provides a unique perspective on both personal and political history.
Rice and I met in her office in a simple, one-story building on the Stanford campus. I thought she’d be in a modern, high-security area, but any student could—and they frequently do—walk right into her office.
There are no victims.
RICE MADE HER WAY TO THE SIDE OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES AND NEAR THE TOP OF STANFORD UNIVERSITY THROUGH HER ABILITY, HARD WORK, AND THE HELP OF HER FAMILY AND COMMUNITY.
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I WAS BORN IN BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA, and moved to Colorado when I was about thirteen. Birmingham was doing just about everything it could to make sure black children did not succeed—like spending less money on black schools or taking new equipment from black schools and giving it to white schools.
It was that nefarious, but we had extremely dedicated teachers who were very determined that these actions weren’t going to work. We had a community, which including my father’s church, where there was tutoring every evening, as well as ballet lessons, choirs, and social clubs. The community made up for the lack of an education infrastructure in the city.
My community was saying: Life may be tough, and there may be a lot of racism out there, but you have no excuse. I don’t want to hear that they did it to you because you were black..... ..just keep pushing ahead.
There are no victims in this society. There are trials and tribulations and difficulties that stem from race and gender and whatever, but I believe you must take responsibility for yourself. You have to believe that you can take charge of your life.
PERHAPS RICE’S BELIEF IN PERSONAL
RESPONSIBILITY AND RESOURCEFULNESS
IS A FAMILY TRADITION.
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W hen you perceive yourself as a victim, you are powerless. When my granddad was about twenty or twenty-one , he decided he needed to get book-learning. He was growing up in Ewtah, Alabama, on a farm raising cotton. He asked what was the closest college that would take a colored boy, and people told him Stillman College in Tuscaloosa.
He went there and told them he was going to pay for college with cotton. They said he couldn’t pay with cotton, so he asked how the other boys were going to school, and they told him they had scholarships and that if he wanted to be a Presbyterian minister, he could have a scholarship, too.
He replied, “Oh, didn’t I tell you? I want to be a Presbyterian minister,” and we’ve been Presbyterian ever since. What would possess a man in Ewtah, Alabama, circa 1919, to figure out a way to get book-learning? My grandfather had a reason to have a gripe. He had a reason to feel like a victim. He was free— sort of—but he was in the deepest of Jim Crow Alabama.
My other grandfather worked three jobs to buy property so that they could have a place to live and educate all five of his children. These are people who took charge of their lives. I can’t believe that life is more complicated today than it was for them.
WHEN RICE STARTED STUDYING FOR
HER MASTER’S DEGREE, SHE LEARNED
A VALUABLE LESSON ABOUT JUMPING
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W HEN I WAS IN GRADUATE SCHOOL, I had an incident that taught me to be a little more careful about jumping to conclusions. I went to Notre Dame as a master’s student. All I knew about Indiana was that it was the home of the Ku Klu x Klan . It was my first time away from home, and I was all revved up to protect myself and be careful.
The first day I was in South Bend, I went driving to pick up some things for my room. I had a brand-new car, and it overheated. I pulled to the side of the road, and I walked back to a service station. The guy said, “You’ll have to pull it over here.”
I immediately flashed on it . I thought, You racist so-and-so! 1 said, “Why do I have to pull it over here?” and he said, “Well, I thought if you pulled it over here in the shade, it might cool off faster.”
YEARS LATER, A SECRET SERVICE AGENT
JUMPED TO THE CONCLUSION THAT RICE
WASN’T A DIGNITARY SEEING MIKHAIL
GORBACHEV OFF AT THE AIRPORT. THIS
EVENT AND THE ONE IN SOUTH BEND
TAUGHT HER ABOUT MAKING SNAP
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M Y FIRST REACTION WAS NOT THAT I THOUGHT HE WAS RACIST. He was nasty, but I wouldn’t call it abusive. Frankly, I was pretty mad and nasty to him, too. When he wasn’t looking, I pushed past him and went out onto the tarmac. Then he came over to me and said, “You are not supposed to be out here.” And I said, “What is your name?” He said, “I don’t have to tell you my name. Who are you?” I said, “I am the president’s special assistant for Soviet affairs. Who are you?” He gave me his name, I reported him, and I figured that was the end of it.
I can feel racism at a thousand paces—I grew up in Bull Connor’s Birmingham. [Eugene “Bull” Connor was the commissioner of public safety of Birmingliam . He refused to protect the Birmingham Freedom Riders and instructed the police force to use fire hoses and dogs on black demonstrators.] Because I am black and female, there was an immediate assumption that everything was racial. The guy was an overzealous field agent. I challenged his authority, and he didn’t like it. Do I think that somewhere subliminally for him, I didn’t look like the president’s special assistant for Soviet affairs? There are not that many black, female Soviet specialists, so maybe it was a genuine mistake. I didn’t take it as a personal insult.
By the time it got into the press, it was a huge incident . By the time it got into some of the black press, it was as if I had been knocked down. I had people calling from all over the country . Even my father called . The president asked Brent Scrowcroft about it. I was mortified.
The biggest lesson is that things aren’t what they seem—especially when the press gets hold of them . Being black, it’s easy to come to a conclusion about any slight. I have learned that until further evidence, I’ll assume innocence. There is enough racism around that you don’t have to go looking for it.
RICE WAS A FIRST-HAND WITNESS TO THE
FALL OF COMMUNISM. ULTIMATELY, SHE
ATTRIBUTES THE ASTOUNDING COLLAPSE
OF THE SOVIET POLITICAL SYSTEM TO THE
DENIAL OF INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS.
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T HE SOVIETS DIDN’T TRUST INDIVIDUALS AND BELIEVED THAT THE STATE or some set of bureaucrats o r ideologies was better at organizing human beings than they were at organizing themselves.
There are two ways to think about human history . One is that states and organizations find the truth, get everybody to fit into a blueprint, and end up in nirvana. The other is that individuals come up against something they consider an assault on their rights and batter it until it comes down.
Ultimately, human history progresses that way. The Soviet Union was a society that tried to program symphonies—Shostakovich [Dmitri Shostakovich, a Soviet composer] was told that one of his symphonies wasn’t socialist enough. How can you tell if a symphony is socialist? In that kind of society individuals don’t blossom. They have no reason to take responsibility for themselves or anybody else, and they just shrivel up. Incentives and initiative, and all of the things that make human beings what they are, disappear.
The thing that boggles my mind is that communism succeeded as long as it did. I was not one of the people who said it was going to crash in 1989—or 1992—but even at the time, and certainly in retrospect, it was a crazy way to organize human beings: trying to make everybody basically the same except a very small layer of people who got richer while everybody else got poorer.
I believe that Jimmy Carter never understood what he was dealing with. In some ways Reagan understood too well. He scared the living daylights out of most of us who had studied the Soviet Union when he started down the road of a very aggressive, high-risk, nonaccommodationist policy.
Those people had nuclear weapons, right? Calling them an evil empire and saying that they were going to end up on the ash heap of history seemed to me slightly dangerous and none too diplomatic. I can remember reading that speech and thinking, Oh my God!
Reagan was determined that he would build up America’s military forces and challenge the Soviets everywhere on the globe, whether it was supporting the Contras in Nicaragua or the Afghan rebels in Afghanistan.
I don’t think Reagan caused the fall of communism. It was a fundamentally weak system from the inside out, but his policies were the final nail. All of a sudden the communists were treated as a fundamentally weak society that we thought we could defeat—not accommodate, defeat.
I thought it was risky at the time, but it turned out to be the right way to go about it. Had he come ten years earlier, I think they might have just pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and taken on the challenge. But ten years later, they were—thank God—too weak to do so. Timing is everything, and the timing was right.
IN ADDITION TO HER EXPERIENCE WITH SOVIET
AFFAIRS, RICE IS AN EXPERT ON NUCLEAR ARMS.
SHE BELIEVES THAT THE POTENCY OF NUCLEAR
WEAPONS HAS MADE THEM, IRONICALLY,
IMPOSSIBLE TO USE.
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T HE HISTORY OF WARFARE IS USING TECHNOLOGY TO KILL. So going from the crossbow to the rifle to the tank to the airplane has been a steady progression of getting better weapons. Then you have the ultimate weapon, and the paradox was that it was unusable, so you were forced to go back and develop better relations with adversaries.
There is no way to prove this, but I believe that nuclear weapons were so terrible that nobody could use them, and that is why we did not have a war during the Cold War. At least in Europe and probably in parts of Asia, nuclear weapons prevented human beings from giving way to their worst instincts.
It didn’t matter that you had Joseph Stalin, who was paranoid, or Nikita Khrushchev, who I think in some ways was more of a risk-taker than Stalin. It didn’t matter that there were two hostile ideologies in the United States and the Soviet Union. We continued to have wars, and we continued to perfect better ways of warfare. But the big wars, the wars to reshape the international system—like the war of 1914 or 1941—are no longer possible.
RICE SEEMS TO BE A PARADOX:
SHE IS BLACK, FEMALE, PRO-CHOICE,
AND REPUBLICAN. SHE IS LIVING PROOF
THAT THINGS ARE NEVER AS SIMPLE AS THEY SEEM.
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P resident Bush is a man to whom I would trust my life. I had the strongest sense of his absolute confidence in me. He was completely able to put aside the fact that I was black and female and deal with me as his principal aide on Soviet policy . Individual relationships are transcendent: you establish a level of trust and confidence in a person, and other factors are nonissues.
Bush’s inner circle was male—Scrowcroft, Baker, Cheney, Powell, Brady, and Sununu—but I think this is partly generational, and within ten years that will not be an issue. You will see women who have grown up together and been around their male counterparts.
If one of the people I worked with in the administration became president or secretary of state, I’d be a part of that inner circle. Baker and Bush have known each other for thirty years. You don’t replace that kind of intimate knowledge of somebody just for the sake of gender or race.
One reason I am a Republican is that I would rather be ignored than patronized. Though the Republican Party has not done a good job of explaining, reaching out, or demonstrating that it can be a home for black Americans who hold certain principles, it comes down to how you feel about the role of government and how you feel about individualism.
There is a policy history with the Democratic Party that appeals to blacks, but the Republican Party should appeal because of its emphasis on the individual and on its belief in the stagnating role of the government.
Pushing Your Luck.
I POSED MY FINAL QUESTION:
“WHAT IF CLINTON CALLS YOU UP AND ASKS
YOU TO CONTINUE?”
AND RICE GAVE ME HER INSIGHTS ON WHEN TO QUIT.
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I HAD THE BEST POSSIBLE SET OF CIRCUMSTANCES:
I worked for a president I admired and for a boss that I adored [Scrowcroft], with whom I had a wonderful relationship and terrific access. I am still very close to most of the staff people I worked with in the State Department and National Security Council. It was the best possible time: the end of the Cold War. We saw Eastern Europe liberated; we helped unite Germany. We did great things.
I am not going to try that again! To go back so soon and have to deal with events that are far less dramatic would be anticlimactic. Maybe ten or fifteen years from now, it would be fun to do it again under different circumstances. The lesson is: Don’t push your luck.
Copyright @ 1993 by Guy Kawasaki
Published by: Beyond Words Publishing, Inc.
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