State of the Union

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice talks foreign policy, immigration, and presidential politics as the Jack Kemp Distinguished Lecturer

When traveling overseas, Condoleezza Rice is constantly being asked about the American presidential race—usually with a question along the lines of "Has the United States lost its collective mind?" Addressing a capacity crowd in Thorne Hall on April 18, the former U.S. secretary of state cited several contributory factors, including a national government "that mostly talks to itself," the polarizing effect of online and social media platforms that make it easy to exclude dissenting voices, and candidates who offer too-easy answers to angry questions about the decline of the middle class.

Presidential politics was one of many topics addressed by Rice as Occidental's 2016 Jack Kemp '57 Distinguished Lecturer. Prior to her formal remarks and a Q&A session with fellow Stanford professor (and Oxy trustee) Chip Blacker '72, Rice met for almost an hour with 18 students whom she urged to ask her "anything" during the off-the-record session. With students from Taiwan, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines and others who had studied overseas or participated in the Kahane United Nations program, the questions that followed centered on foreign policy. But she touched on everything from sustaining an all-volunteer army to, of course, the race for the White House.

Inside Thorne Hall, Rice was asked if she might give any thought to running for public office. The answer was a firm "no."

Whether one is looking at what is happening in the Middle East, Europe, China, or Brazil, answers to stresses now being placed on the international system are harder to come by, Rice said. The flow of refugees from Syria has placed enormous strains on Germany and other European countries, prompting the rise of dangerous right-wing populist movements. "Europe in is in a governance crisis right now," Rice said. "The migrant crisis isn't just changing the face of the Middle East; it's changing the face of Europe."

Similar hostility to immigrants in the United States is misplaced, she said. "Immigration is the lifeblood of who we are. Immigrants have made this country vibrant and vital time and time again. Not just the people who come here, but the people who are here. We turn them away at our peril."

Asked about how she might address current international instability, she proposed reinstating the idea of deterrence. "I'm really quite concerned by some of Russia's recent actions, where you have military aircraft buzzing U.S. Navy ships. That doesn't happen without some kind of clearance at the top," she said. "Putin is pushing the envelope in some ways I didn't think he would." One way to push back would be selling more arms to the Ukranians, she suggested.

It's also essential to find a way to defend against terrorism in such a way that the public is not in constant fear of attack, she said, drawing a parallel with California's attitude toward earthquakes. "The danger is there, and we take appropriate precautions, but it's not in the front of our minds."

Addressing the current state of race relations in the United States, Rice cited the lack of opportunity faced by people trapped by poverty and race as the biggest challenge America faces as it continues to struggle with the legacy of slavery. "We have come a long way, but when I can look at your ZIP code and I can tell whether you're going to get a good education, that lack of opportunity is a real problem," she said.

The Thorne Hall audience of 800 Oxy students, faculty, staff, and alumni saluted Rice with a standing ovation at the end of the program. Earlier, as she began her prepared remarks, about 30 protesters critical of her role in the Iraq War stood and silently turned their backs to her.

Rice's appearance was made possible by the Jack Kemp '57 Distinguished Lecture Series, created to engage the Oxy community in dialogue on public policy issues.