If Condoleezza Rice were as self-pitying and politically crass as Attorney General Eric Holder, she would be wondering aloud what it is about her race and gender that accounts for the hostility to her. Rice’s speaking gigs on college campuses and her ascension to the board of the Internet company Dropbox have sparked protests calling for her to be disinvited, cashiered and generally isolated and shamed.
Condi Rice is not a natural lightning rod. She’s such a disreputable figure that she’s on the board of the Kennedy Center and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. She’s such a lightweight that she’s a Stanford University professor. She’s such a yahoo that she once accompanied cellist Yo-Yo Ma on the piano.
The mob nonetheless believes that her due punishment for serving the wrong administration in the wrong cause should be banishment.
When the University of Minnesota invited her to give a lecture as part of a series marking the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, the school’s faculty roused itself. Roughly 200 of them demanded that the invitation be revoked, partly because she is unfit to be part of a civil-rights lecture series.
What would give anyone the idea that a woman who was the nation’s first female African-American secretary of state, who experienced Jim Crow firsthand during her childhood in Alabama, who was friends with one of the girls killed in the Birmingham church bombing would have anything relevant to say about civil rights?
The Minnesota professors say that it is in a “spirit of free expression” that they ask for the reversal of Rice’s invitation. Because nothing says free expression like shutting down someone’s lecture.
They claim they would love to have Rice come to the school on some other occasion. Presumably to sit in the dock at a mock war-crimes trial.
The Rutgers faculty reacted in a similar vein to the selection of Rice as the school’s commencement speaker. It called for undoing the decision, explaining that “a Commencement speaker, who is entrusted with speaking to graduating students about the direction of their future lives, should embody moral authority and exemplary leadership.”
Does the Rutgers faculty really think Rice will urge graduating students to go out and start “wars of choice” and do “extraordinary renditions”? If the past is any guide, Rice will tell the Rutgers students about the importance of getting an education, of finding their passion, of being optimistic — you know, all the truly dark stuff that animates quasi-war criminals.
The protesters of Dropbox’s decision to put Rice on its board said it called into question the company’s “commitment to freedom, openness, and ethics.” In their brief against her, they didn’t raise any remotely plausible concern about how she would influence the policies of the company.
But Rice’s critics aren’t interested in argument. They are offended by Rice’s very presence. As usual, her harassment is about narrowing the range of respectability so as to limit the parameters of political debate. This time, it is failing. The leaders of the University of Minnesota, Rutgers and Dropbox have refused to dump Rice.
Of course, if the typical rules applied, the fierce opposition to her would be attributed to racism, sexism and any other handy “-ism.” Just imagine what Eric Holder would say if his opponents embarked on a concerted campaign to silence and shun him.
Syndicated columnist Rich Lowry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.