The Secretary cuts loose at NBTA
Condoleezza Rice mocks China for its Internet stance, calls Thomas Jefferson"overrated" in eclectic Houston speech
I was jazzed for former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's keynote speech at the National Business Travelers Association (NBTA) convention Monday afternoon when I heard James Taylor blaring on the loudspeakers as attendees waited for the doctor of political science to take the stage. I hope the choice of tunage was Condie's personal request.
I'd heard the Stanford professor was funny, but I'd never heard her speak. Mostly I was interested in what she'd say to her niche audience — a collection of business travel professionals. (Jokes were made about how many frequent flyer miles Rice would have racked up during her years with the Bush administration, if only she'd flown commercial).
Suited in dark gray with her signature pearls, Rice discussed September 11, for which she was National Security Advisor, and counter-terrorism efforts more than I'd have anticipated.
She defended the institution of Democracy to, presumably, an easy audience; dismissed the notion that China was a viable contender to overtake the United States as the world's preeminent economic power ("I don't mean to say China is falling apart," Rice said, "But can a country so terrified of the Internet lead the globe?"); and spoke about what she learned in office about outside perceptions of the U.S.
She touched on immigration at the George R. Brown Convention Center, but drew the second-most applause when she spoke of education. (The most came when Rice called for lower taxes and less regulation, arguing that economic recovery would have to come from private sector-led growth.)
Rice's grandfather, John Wesley Rice, had been a sharecropper in Alabama and learned he could secure a scholarship to a nearby college if he were committed to becoming a Presbyterian minister. "My family has been college-educated and Presbyterian ever since," Rice said.
She called a poor education system the "biggest national security threat we've got," and said one shouldn't be able to predict a child's quality of education by their zip code.
Some interesting tidbits:
- Rice is a classically trained pianist. Niftier, her last performance partner was Aretha Franklin.
- She kept the portraits of four other Secretary of States around to keep her grounded: Thomas Jefferson (who she called "overrated"), George Marshall (he made her feel a bit better about bad press), Dean Acheson and William Seward.
- She stayed like a champ for a question and answer session and personally congratulated all the NBTA award-winners.