Republicans are still hedging on specific economic-inequality policy for the coming year, with little agreement within the party so far. Instead, they're focusing on poster boys for their plan, and their latest is a woman.
The National Republican Congressional Committee announced Tuesday that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be the keynote speaker at the group's annual fundraising dinner in March.
"Condoleezza Rice's life embodies the American dream," said NRCC Chairman Greg Walden in a statement on the committee's website. "From growing up in the Jim Crow-era south to traveling the world as the nation's top diplomat, she is living proof that our country is the land of opportunity."
Rice grew up in Birmingham, Ala., where she says examples of racial and educational inequality were regular and frequent. Her parents taught her not to be a victim, even in unfair circumstances. "That was a sin," she told NPR in 2010, "to consider yourself victimized, or not able to control your destiny, or your fate — that was the one cardinal sin in our community."
The GOP's prescription for tackling economic inequality, while still in the works, heavily emphasizes social mobility — the ease with which Americans can rise upward from the middle class. Federal entitlement programs, as well as the cultural demise of the nuclear family, hinder people's ability to climb the ranks, it says.
Walden's description of Rice's rise to the top indicates that the former secretary embodies some of the basic Republican ideas ahead of this year's midterm elections. And Rice may serve as a better example than some of her fellow Republicans.
Sens. Marco Rubio and Rand Paul and Reps. Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor have all been making the rounds this month, talking economic inequality with policy organizations and journalists alike. But the face of income inequality has become increasingly female, and putting men on the front lines of the conversation may not be a recipe for attracting women voters to the party's cause, let alone to the ballot during midterm elections. Rice provides a voice in the debate that better resembles America's poorest constituents, one that, by virtue of being female, is less likely to come off as compassionate conservative.
Rice can help bolster the GOP agenda this year. But she can also further her own. This new gig could allow her to hint at some policy suggestions in anticipation of her own presidential campaign, much like other contenders, including Ryan and Rubio, have done so far. Although Rice has said she is not interested in running for office, speculation remains. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spent 2010, the year he headlined the same NRCC dinner, aggressively squashing rumors that he was considering running for president. Four years later, those rumors persist.