Rice: Reaffirm Our Principles

Former Secretary of State outlines ‘three great shocks’ that changed our lives.

March 19, 2012

Will the U.S. remain the world’s leader—or will another power such as China take our place on the global stage?

It depends on whether we hold true to our guiding principles, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told GAC attendees Monday.

“America’s competition for global leadership is the U.S. gone bad,” she says. “We need to reaffirm our principles. The one thing people around the world admire about us is that anyone here can do great things. It doesn’t matter where you come from; it’s about where you’re going.”

While some nations are held together by religion and others by ruthless regimes, the glue for U.S. society is the belief that anything is possible. “If that’s ever not true, we’ll tear ourselves apart,” Rice said.

She relayed a touching story about her grandfather, a share cropper’s son from Eutaw, Ala., who sold his cotton crop to pay for college. “Somehow he knew an education would transform him and his future generations—where a girl from Birmingham, Ala., who believed she could be president ultimately became the Secretary of State.”

Rice outlined three “great shocks” during the past decade that forever changed peoples’ concepts of security, financial stability, and democracy:

  • Sept. 11. “The fact that a stateless group of terrorists who spent less than $300,000 to bring down the World Trade Center forever changed our concept of physical security,” she said.
  • The financial crisis of 2008. People who lost their homes and their retirement savings wondered for the first time whether life would be worse for their children. “This challenged our very notion of prosperity and economic security,” Rice said.
  • The rise of democracy around the world. “If we ever get fed up with our leaders, we can throw the bums out—peacefully,” she said.

But in many Middle Eastern countries, there are no mechanisms for peaceful leadership changes, leading to violence and revolution. But there’s no stopping the push for democracy now.

“People in the East are determined to have their freedom,” Rice said. “It will be a tough go, but we can’t stop now. We’ll have to go on a rocky ride with them.”

Currently a Stanford University professor, Rice has been a Stanford Federal Credit Union member for 30 years. “I couldn’t have bought my first car without it.”

Rice dismissed plans for a presidential run. And despite concerns about the country, she remains optimistic. “In the U.S., what seems impossible often appears to be inevitable in retrospect.”