Condi Rice Memoir: ‘We Have a Race Problem’

‘We Have a Race Problem, Mr. President’

In an excerpt from her new memoir published in Newsweek, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she didn’t think much about dire Hurricane Katrina warnings when she left Washington D.C. to watch U.S. Open tennis in New York in August 2005. Turning on the TV after a trip to an upscale shoe store in the city, she saw the devastating images of mostly black faces in New Orleans and knew right away that she should have never made the trip.

“Mr. President, I’m coming back. I don’t know how much I can do, but we clearly have a race problem,” she recounts telling the president. “I wasn’t just the secretary of state with responsibility for foreign affairs; I was the highest-ranking black in the administration and a key advisor to the President. What had I been thinking?”

The Lingering Wound of Katrina

Rice admits that Katrina was “the first in a spiral of negative events that would almost engulf the Bush presidency” and says the federal response was slower and more flawed than anyone, including George W. Bush, wanted. Yet, for her, the “lingering wound of Katrina” is that “some used the explosive ‘race card’ to paint the President as a prejudiced, uncaring man.”

“It was so unfair, cynical, and irresponsible,” she writes, saying she remains “appalled” that it was necessary to defend him on this issue.

The Moral Case for Opposing Tyranny

In an interview with The Daily Beast about the book, Rice defends the Bush administration’s “Freedom Agenda,” framing it as both a moral and practical pursuit.

“We pursued the Freedom Agenda not only because it was right but also because it was necessary,” Rice is quoted as writing. “There is both a moral case and a practical one for the proposition that no man, woman, or child should live in tyranny. Those who excoriated the approach as idealistic or unrealistic missed the point. In the long run, it is authoritarianism that is unstable and unrealistic.”

Gadhafi’s “Black Flower in the White House”

A New York Times review of No Higher Ground focuses on clashes between Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney over the war on terror, but includes the curious revelation that recently deceased Libyan dictator Col. Muammar Gadhafi was “eerily fascinated” with her and “made a video showing pictures of her while a song called ‘Black Flower in the White House’ played.”

Rice’s Biggest Regret

Neither Katrina nor Freedom Agenda challenges top Rice’s list of regrets, however. In a Q&A with readers of the Charlotte Observer this week, the former Secretary of State answered a question about what she would change from her White House tenure if she could by saying she wishes that the Bush administration had been able to pass comprehensive immigration reform in 2007.

“Because resolving our massive immigration problem is essential to securing a prosperous future for generations, I truly wish we had been able to see those reforms come to fruition,” said Rice.

Asked what has built character in her life, she told readers that throughout every season of her life, “the Lord has built character in me as I rely on Him.”

What do you think?

Was George W. Bush’s Katrina “race problem” the beginning of the end of positive public perception for his administration? Is his record on race defensible?