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Take My Secretary of State, Please

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I met Condoleezza Rice last weekend. She was much prettier than I thought she was going to be. This was at the State Department dinner the night before the Kennedy Center Honors. She was wearing a beautiful green evening dress, and she looked great. That gap between her front teeth is not as bad in person as it is on television. I've always wanted to talk to Condi about that gap because it's very easy to fix and I know a good celebrity dentist who can do the job in less than twenty-four hours. He's expensive but Condi makes a decent salary, and let's face it, she hasn't picked up a check for the last six years, so she can afford it.

Anyway, Condi was the hostess of the dinner, and she stood up to speak about each of the honorees. She was completely competent. She was, however, not at all funny. She tried to be, but she wasn't. She was what I call not just "not funny" but NF, which is far worse -- it's truly, deeply, tragically not funny. I mention this because it may help explain why Christopher Hitchens has written a piece called "Why Women Aren't Funny," in this month's Vanity Fair. I can only assume that it's because he's spent too much time living in the same city with Condoleezza Rice.

Hitchens' thesis (let's be honest about it) has a germ of truth. There are plenty of funny women, way more than there used to be, but as a rule women are not as funny as men. The reasons are simple, and fairly boring. Hitchens quotes at length from a Stanford University study that proves conclusively that women don't respond to punch lines as enthusiastically as men do; I can't imagine why he even brings up the study unless he has a word count he's trying to meet. Why not just get right down to it? Men love jokes, women don't. Men tell jokes, women can't. Men have cocks, women don't. End of story.

By the way, I should confess I love Christopher Hitchens, but the man once wrote that Bob Hope was not funny. That is not true. Bob Hope is empirically funny.

But my subject is Condi, not Bob Hope. Condoleezza Rice was once a Provost, and if there's ever been a job description that doesn't require humor, it's Provost. She was an expert on the Soviet Union. I mean, what would that be like? You spend your academic life becoming an expert on something that one day just ceases to exist. Everything you once knew turns out to be outdated, irrelevant and wrong. That alone could cause you to lose your gift for humor, if you ever had one.

But what Condi is really good at is making nice, which is the opposite of being funny. I've always believed that women of my generation (and hers) were literally trained to make nice. It wasn't really important for us to have opinions of our own; instead, we were supposed to preside over dinner parties, and when two men at the table disagreed violently with one another, we were supposed to step in and point out the remarkable similarities between their opposing positions.

Condoleezza Rice's compulsion to make nice is discussed in the same January Vanity Fair in which the Hitchens piece appears, in an amazing article by David Rose about the Neocons and their remorse about the Iraq war. Why this piece hasn't been on the front page of every newspaper is mystifying. It's full of jaw-dropping interviews with people like Richard Perle, Kenneth Adelman and David Frum, all of them blaming everyone in sight (including themselves) for this mess we've made. According to neocon Michael Ledeen, Condi saw her job as "conflict resolution, so that when Powell and Rumsfeld disagreed, which did happen from time to time, she would say to Hadley or whomever, 'O.K., try to find some middle ground where they can both agree.' So then it would descend at least one level in the bureaucracy, and people would be asked to draft new memos.... Thousands of hours were wasted by searching for middle ground, which most of the time will not exist." Ledeen claims that the best way to understand the Bush Administration is to look at who the most powerful people in the White House are: "They are women who are in love with the President: Laura, Condi, Harriet Miers and Karen Hughes."

I don't actually believe that we went to war in Iraq because of the women in the White House - if there was ever an episode caused by misplaced testosterone, this was it. And I don't think you can blame Condoleezza Rice for trying to find a middle ground - after all, that's part of what politics is. But it's increasingly clear that the search for a middle ground when it comes to Iraq is fruitless, and what's more, that all the middle-ground solutions (like waiting to leave until the Iraqi military functions on its own) will simply lead to months and years of quagmire.

Meanwhile, the woman is still with us, more powerful and more disconnected from reality than ever. She apparently still believes there's no point in talking to Syria and Iran. She still believes that democracy is a feasible goal in Iraq. At the State Department dinner, I watched her speak about the arts. "Arts flourish most when they happen in a democracy," she said. "The arts give expression to human spirit and give expression to human freedom."

This remark -- coming as it does from a key figure in an administration that's done more to cut back on funding for the arts than any in recent history - would be funny if it weren't so serious. As is, it's not just "not funny," it's NF.