Thursday, August 30, 2012

Condi's Lecture to the GOP Faithful

Former Secretary of State Condeleeza Rice's speech to the Republican National Convention has been getting well deserved praise.  But take a close look.  It is much more a lecture to GOP conservatives about how they need to change the way they look at the world than it was an indictment of the Obama presidency.

Look at the core messages of the address.  Rice's most passionate rhetoric emphasized the critical role of education in forging a positive future for the country.  "The crisis in K-12 education," she said, is a grave threat to who we are."

But conservatives don't have an education policy other than public funded vouchers to attend religious schools.  The main mantra of the right has been local control of education, which is why there was never much enthusiasm for the Bush/Kennedy No Child Left Behind initiative.  Had Rice looked for creative thinking on education reform, she would have found it not in the convention hall, but rather in the Obama Race to the Top program that has been roundly praised as a tough, sensible approach to K-12 education.

And what are Romney/Ryan offering on K-12 education?  Rice didn't say.  But the math is pretty clear.  If we are going to cut taxes, increase defense spending, protect Medicare and Social Security from cuts, and balance the budget - then watch out for those education budgets.  In North Carolina, 94 percent of the budget is comprised of corrections, Medicaid, and education.  Romney/Ryan promise large scale reductions in Medicaid; corrections are hard to reduce -- so what can a state do to balance their budgets other than cut education.  And guess what - that is what Republican governors and legislatures have been doing already, laying off teachers across the country. They will have to do even more if Romney and Ryan are elected.

The second message was about the need for an inclusive immigration policy - another anathema to not only the hard core conservatives in Tampa, but to the mainstream of the GOP.   Republicans in Congress have turned against the Dream Act (which many of them once supported).  During the primaries, Mitt Romney suggested making conditions so miserable for undocumented immigrants that they would self-deport (which can't be a very attractive idea to those immigrants who are here legally).  And Republican governors have led the charge to authorize the police to check documents for anyone they suspect might be an illegal immigrant.    If Rice thinks she is going to turn the tide within the GOP on this issue, she has a lot of work to do in a party that appears to get whiter, less diverse, and less inclusive when they convene every four years.

Another of Rice's key points was that both American values and interests require us to support fledgling democracies, protect refugees, fight AIDS in Africa, and confront poverty in Haiti.  Engagement in the world means both using both might and right, the arrow and the olive branch.  Fatigue with international engagement is a bipartisan affliction - but it is far more severe in Tampa than it will be in Charlotte.  Those cheering Rice at the RNC have little interest in supporting foreign aid, development assistance, and agencies like the State and Treasury Department that help us to exercise our soft power.   Indeed, the Romney/Ryan ticket speaks only about reversing proposed defense cuts, which will put even more pressure on the functions that Rice holds so dear.

Rice made some tepid critiques of Obama's foreign policy - but that is really not what this speech was about.  It was really a message by a person who sees that her party has taken a sharp turn in the wrong direction.

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