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Christina Wilkie

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Condoleezza Rice Speech Calls For Immigration Reform, Fixing Wealth Gap

Posted: 07/10/2012 10:00 am

WASHINGTON -- As presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney continues to mull over whom to choose as his running mate, one name has started to be brought up more often -- former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Fueled by comments from Ann Romney last week that her husband is considering choosing a woman as his VP nominee, many have speculated that the Stanford University professor may make her way back onto the political stage.

Rice has denied on several occasions that she is interested in the job, most recently to CBS's Charlie Rose. Her standard line is that she loves policy, but has no interest in politics. But that hasn't stopped Beltway pundits from speculating as to what Rice could bring to a joint ticket. On the one hand, Rice's experience would help balance Romney's lack of foreign policy bona fides. On the other hand, she worked for George W. Bush, the least popular U.S. president still alive -- which could make her a liability.

Despite her insistence that she has no interest in being Romney's #2, Rice has, intentionally or unintentionally, made herself seem more available after recent appearances she has made at Republican political functions.

In late June, Rice gave a speech to an elite group of Republican donors at a resort in Utah. Her remarks weren't released to the media, but attendees described the former diplomat's "impassioned plea" for renewed U.S. leadership at home and abroad as "spectacular," and the crowd reportedly gave her two standing ovations.

We don't know exactly what she said, but it was most likely very similar to the speech she delivered two days later to a group of human resources executives in Atlanta. Roughly the same length as her remarks in Utah, the 15-minute speech tackled the same themes she was reported to have spoken to the Romney donors about. She was equally as well received in Atlanta as she was in Utah.

While Rice's office has yet to confirm that they were the same speech, the similarity makes sense -- public figures on the lecture circuit typically have one stump speech, which they tweak for different audiences.

Click here to listen to the speech recorded in Atlanta by HuffPost.

In Utah she opened with a joke about the vice presidential speculation, which likely played well because the crowd included VP short-listers like Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and New Hampshire Sen. Rob Portman. Over the course of her talk, she framed the past decade in terms of three "great shocks": 9/11, the worldwide financial crisis and the Arab Spring.

The crises, she said, demanded a response rarely discussed during an election centered on domestic policy debates: American global leadership.

"If this international system that is reeling from these three great shocks is going to find power again, it's going to do so because somebody steps up to take leadership," Rice said.

"It's going to do so because there's always a country that leads. There's always a country that has a view of how human history ought to unfold. And the United States of America has had a view. It is that free markets and free peoples ought to lead the future."

From there, Rice pivoted to a controversial issue, especially among Republicans -- comprehensive immigration reform.

"It doesn't matter where you came from, it matters where you're going," Rice said. "That belief has led people to come here for generations from across the world, just to be a part of that. Frankly, it hasn't mattered whether it was Sergei Brin, whose parents brought him here at 7 years old from Russia and he founds Google, or the guy who came to make five dollars and fifty cents. They are the same ambitious, risk-taking people and America has been able to gather them."

For Romney, however, Rice's public support of immigration reform may alone be enough to disqualify her from VP consideration.

Despite recent claims that he plans to implement an immigration reform plan if elected, Romney has yet to offer any details about what such a plan might look like.

He has said that he opposes immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for any of the 12 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States -- what he calls "amnesty" plans. Instead, he has proposed that illegal immigrants be convinced to "self-deport," and return to their home countries in order to re-apply for immigration to the U.S.

But immigration wasn't the only element of Rice's speech that was out of sync with Romney's platform.

The former secretary of state also singled out "huge inequities between the rich and the poor" as the main reasons that "places like Brazil and India, great multi-ethnic democracies that are countries that have a lot of potential ... are having trouble reaching that potential."

"Brazil is indeed Sao Paulo and Rio," she said, "but Brazil is also the [shanty-town] hills above Rio. And India is of course Mumbai and Bangalore, but India is also Calcutta."

Rice paid no heed to the fact that economic inequality is an issue, politically speaking, that belongs to Democrats, and President Barack Obama has made no secret of his plans to capitalize on voter frustration over the wealth gap.

Despite a heavy focus on issues abroad, Rice made several significant points regarding economic inequality in the U.S.

"Americans are not united by blood or ethnicity or religion or nationality," she said. "We are united by a creed. You can come from humble circumstances and you can do great things. And if that's ever not true, then this society will rip itself apart."

"This has been the country that has been the most capable of mobilizing human potential, because it hasn't mattered where you came from, it's only mattered where you're going," she said.

Erin Mershon contributed to this story.


I want to start by answering a question I've been asked a lot. No, not that question. The question is as follows: How different is it being in government and being out of government? And I can tell you that in fact it is very different being out of government for one reason and one reason only. I get up in the morning, I get my coffee, I go and I read the newspaper and I think, isn't that interesting.

And then I move right on to whatever else I want to do because I no longer have responsibility for what's in the newspaper.

I do, I'm concerned about the state of our country, the state of our world, and indeed it is a tumultuous time. In fact, one thing to think about is that the international system has been through three great shocks in the last decade or so. The first, of course, is 9/11. And I can tell you that if you were in a position of authority on September 11, 2001, and you stand at your desk, and first your executive assistant says that a plane has hit the World Trade Center, and then a second plane has hit the World Trade Center, and then finally a plane has hit the Pentagon -- another plane has gone down in a field out in Pennsylvania -- your concept of what constitutes fiscal security is never the same.

In fact, from that moment on we were to get to all the names of the ungoverned spaces in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, in places like Yemen and Somalia, and this, the most powerful country in the world, would have to face the fact that a group of stateless terrorists had come from the fifth poorest country in the world and caused a devastating attack, bringing down the Twin Towers, bringing down -- blowing a hole in the Pentagon. And they had done it for probably 300,000 dollars. And indeed, your concept of fiscal security is never the same.

And then, of course, we have a second great shock. The global economic and financial shock of 2008, when our concept of what constituted prosperity, what constituted economic well being, was shaken. Indeed, I can remember very well as a little girl my mother being told by my grandfather, 'Angelina, you and Don need to buy a house because the value of your house never goes down.'

And now just imagine, as Americans watch the values of their homes -- their most precious assets, something that's more than asset, something that means that you have a place to call your own -- and they sit and they watch as maybe the value of the home is even less than they paid for it. And indeed people wonder if after years and years of unemployment there are ever going to be employed again.

And indeed there's been shock waves across the world from this global and financial economic crisis, as we watch Europe struggle to try and keep together the eurozone. As we watch in places like Brazil and India, great multi-ethnic democracies that are countries that have a lot of potential, but are having trouble reaching that potential because they have huge inequities between the rich and the poor.

After all, Brazil is indeed Sao Paulo and Rio, but Brazil is also the hills above Rio. And India is of course Mumbai and Bangalore, but India is also Calcutta. These countries try and struggle to bring economic promise to their people. But they have something going for them that is not to be underestimated. They are stable, multi-ethnic democracies. And don't ever underestimate what it means to be a stable democracy, because that has to do with the third great shock, and that is the Arab Spring.

Because as 9/11 called into question our concept of what constituted fiscal security, and the global and financial economic crisis called into question what constitutes prosperity and economic security, the Arab Spring is laying bare the argument that authoritarianism can be stable. Authoritarianism is not stable because of one great fact: and that is something that I call the Ceausescu moment. Nicolae Ceausescu was a Romanian dictator and in 1989, Ceausescu went into a square in Budapest and he was exhorting 250,000 people for what he could do for them.

And all of the sudden, with revolutions going across Poland and Hungary and Czechoslovakia into East Germany, Ceausescu hears an old woman in the crowd yell liar. And then 10 people, and then a thousand people, then a hundred thousand people are yelling liar. And Ceausescu, of course, realizes something's gone wrong, so he turns to run, but the young military officer who was to deliver him to freedom delivered him to the revolution instead. And he and his wife Elena are executed.

The Ceausescu moment is when what stands between a dictator and his people, fear, breaks down. And the old woman yells liar. An assaulter refuses to fire at the crowd, a policeman gives way at the Berlin Wall and now all that's left between the dictator and his people is anger. And anger is a terrible way to make people perform.

And so what you're seeing in the streets of the Middle East is what happens when revolution comes instead of reform. And it's going to be chaotic and it's going to be difficult. But once people have insisted that they have the same rights that you and I enjoy, the right to say what you think, the right to worship as you please, the right to be free from the knock of the secret police at night, and the right to insist that those who would govern you have to ask for your consent. Once people seize that, they don't look back. But it's going to be a complicated time.

You may say that there is one country that calls into question this idea that authoritarianism isn't stable. What about China? Isn't China an economic miracle in what one would call authoritarian governments? Oh yes, indeed China is an economic miracle.

I was first in China in 1988, and the streets of Beijing were a competition between a few horse carts, a few automobiles and a whole lot of bicycles. That's not the case today. The Chinese Communist government has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty, they've governed a population of 1.4 billion people, and they have, indeed, done the miraculous, in terms of social and economic change. But the Chinese experience, in great strains and stresses, has this rather rich political system of how it deals with this rapid change. You've heard it, the product safety issues: everything from poisoned baby formula to bullet trains that are falling off the tracks. And, oh, by the way, their first idea as to how to deal with the problems of product safety was to execute the guy in charge of product safety.

Now you're all HR professionals, so that's not something you would ever recommend. And now, no one wants to be in charge of product safety, because it's a very dangerous job.

The Chinese face a demographic outbreak. Now, when they started the one-child policy that was supposed to limit population growth, it seemed like a great idea. but a funny thing that happened in rural China, where in rural China if you were going to have one child you wanted a boy, and so a lot of girls disappeared. And now 38 million Chinese men don't have mates, and China doesn't know how to deal with that.

And you see the labor unrest, and you see 186,000 recorded riots, mostly about labor and land expropriation.

And you hear, from someone who that maybe China should start to think about not just economic reform but political reform too, because he understands that right now China has legitimacy based on prosperity. But legitimacy based on prosperity is hard to maintain, because as people keep expecting more, they want more. And so some are saying, how about trying to transition to something that looks like legitimacy based on consent? Well without becoming [recording unclear].

And so China also comes through this period, like Brazil, like India, like Russia, like so many places with a lot of questions.

That brings me to the other big country in the power structure: the United States of America. Because after all, if this international system that is reeling from these three great shocks is going to find power again, it's going to do so because somebody steps up to take leadership. It's going to do so because there's always a country that leads. There's always a country that has a view of how human history ought to unfold. And the United States of America has had a view. It is that free markets and free peoples ought to lead the future. And that has resulted in democratization across the world.

You know, as I go out into the United States, as I go out into America, I feel a sense of tiredness. I feel of sense of wanting to pull back. We've been through terrorism, we've been through two wars. Our economy is in danger of stagnation again. People are unemployed. We have debt that we cannot pay and are still borrowing money that we cannot afford. Americans are tired.

But I sense that there's something that is deeper, in our sense that we want to withdraw. And that's the beginning of a questioning of who really we are and whether we are solid enough at home to lead.

Indeed, when you're secretary of state, you get to go out in the world and you get to see what people admire about the United States and what sometimes they don't. And let me tell you, sometimes they fear our military power although they are awfully grateful in the world that there are men and women who volunteer, they volunteer to defend us on the front lines of freedom. And we owe them our eternal gratitude.

But with our military prowess sometimes feared, even with our penetration sometimes resented, the one thing that is always admired is what I kind of call the great American passion myth.

And in this sense, the myth isn't something that's untrue, it's just something that's outsized in your thinking. The log cabin. You can come from humble circumstances, you can do great things.

It doesn't matter where you came from, it matters where you're going.

And that belief has led people to come here for generations from across the world, just to be a part of that. And frankly, it hasn't mattered whether it was Sergei Brin whose parents brought him here at 7 years old from Russia and he founds Google, or the guy who came to make five dollars and fifty cents.

They are the same ambitious, risk taking people and America has been able to gather them and I do not know when immigrants became the enemy, but if we don't find a way to reform immigration [the applause is so loud it drowns her out].

But of course it is not just those who come here, but those who are here who happen to believe also that it doesn't matter where you came from, it matters where you are going.

And in that regard, the crisis in K-12 education may indeed be our greatest national security threat. If I look into the future, and I can tell whether you're going to get a good education, can I really say it doesn't matter where you came from, it matters where you're going?

If we don't find a way to educate our kids, especially the least of our kid -- the kids who have nothing going for them but the chance at education -- we are going to do ourselves and oh be sure, it will be a tragedy because there will be unemployed people.

And those unemployed people will live on the dole because they will have nowhere else to go. And it will continue to be the case that only 30 percent of the people who take the basic skills test to get into the military can pass it. The United States of America will lose its competitive edge if that is the case.

But we will lose more.

Americans are not united by blood or ethnicity or religion or nationality. We are united by a creed. You can come from humble circumstances and you can do great things. And if that's ever not true, then this society will rip itself apart.

If it's ever not true, we will lose the greatest strength we have always had. This has been the country that has been the most capable of mobilizing human potential, because it hasn't mattered where you came from, it's only mattered where you're going.

And so, so much is at stake. In an age, the 21st century, when human potential is the key to greatness in the world, not the 19th century, when it was what you could dig out of the ground in terms of resources, or the first half of the 20th century, when it was how efficient could your industrial processes be, how could you bring widgets more efficiently along a production line.

No, the latter half of the 20th century, the beginning of the 21st century, it's been about human potential. Creativity, innovation, the ability to take on different problems and solve them, the ability to reinvent day in and day out the very way we live -- that's what it's about. And the United States has been the best at it.

But we are in danger of losing that.

But you know, I'm actually an optimist and believe that we will get it right, and that the United States will continue to lead, believing that free markets and free peoples hold the future. And I've come to this not because of some rose-colored glasses understanding view of the United States. No, I'm optimistic because so many times, I have seen the impossible seem inevitable in retrospect.

During 2006, when things were a little bit difficult for the Bush administration, I read the writings of the Founding Fathers. You know, by all rights, the United States of America should never have come into being. Smallpox afflicting a third of George Washington's troops on any given day, the Founding Fathers squabbling among themselves against the greatest military power of all time. But we did.

And then we fought a civil war, brother against brother, 500,000 Americans dead on both sides. And yet we emerged a more perfect union. And then you look at the great Continental Divide, and you think those people came over that, they had to be optimists, they didn't even know what was on the other side and they kept going anyway.

And then, a little girl grows up in Birmingham, Alabama, where her parents can't take her to the movie theater or restaurant or the hospital, where she won't have a white classmate until her parents take her to Denver.

And yet even though she couldn't have a hamburger at the Woolworth's lunch counter, her parents had her convinced she could be the president of the United States if she wanted to be and she became the secretary of state.

Sometimes, oftentimes, what seems impossible seems inevitable in retrospect. And on that basis, we will continue to repair and to lead and the world will move more and more towards prosperity and dignity and freedom.

And I believe that it will be led by the country that is after all the most generous, the most compassionate, and most importantly certainly the freest country on the face of the earth: this exceptional country called the United States of America.

Loading Slideshow...
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