Condoleezza Rice: The GOP’s Latest Voice on Economic Inequality

The National Republican Congressional Committee has tapped the former secretary of State as the keynote speaker for its annual fundraising event in March.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks to the crowd at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in Tampa, Fla., on Aug. 29, 2012 during the Republican National Convention.
National Journal
Marina Koren
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Marina Koren
Jan. 14, 2014, 7:40 a.m.

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.

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