*Editor’s Note: Nov. 20 – This story has been edited throughout*
Democracy and Freedom were the topics of discussion on Oct. 10 at the George Bush Presidential Center. More than 300 guests packed the auditorium and an overflow room to hear former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speak on the subjects.
Former President George W. Bush started off the discussion by introducing Rice, the 66th secretary of state, and moderator Dana Perino, his White House press secretary, who were seated to the left of him on stage.
“Tonight is going to be awesome. Two women are going to educate us on democracy tonight. It’s a joy to see them and not to be in Washington,” Bush said as the audience burst into laughter.
Rice, dressed in a teal pantsuit began with an account of her book, “Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom.” The book covers the global struggle for democracy and why America must continue to support the cause of human freedom.
“I was born in 1954, I’m 62. Don’t start counting,” Rice said.
Rice grew up in the Jim Crow days in Birmingham, Alabama. She received her bachelors in political science at the University of Denver and followed that with a master’s degree at the University of Notre Dame in 1975. During those days, she was taught she could do anything. She just had to do it twice as good as anyone else.
“We are no victims. The moment you thought you were, you gave your life to someone else,” she said.
One day, all votes will matter, Rice said, but they didn’t count as much back when she was growing up in Birmingham as an African American in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement.
Rice pointed out that America has come a long way since those days, but still has farther to go.
“We’re still waking up. America was born with a birth defect, slavery,” she said. “Today, we’re still fighting a lot of struggles. You just have to keep working on it and that’s why America is the America it is today.”
Rice said she doesn’t believe democracy is in retreat, just that it’s never going to move in a straight line. There will be set backs even when people fight for their rights.
Rice also discussed the different approaches the U.S. takes to bring about democracy in other countries.
She explained how she once told the president of Saudi Arabia that the country would never grow if it remained constrained. Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive, were forced to be covered when in public, and more.
“I told him you will never grow if you keep 50 percent of your population under wraps,” Rice said.
In 18 months, Saudi women will be able to drive, a signal that the country is making progress.
Rice said elections are the first step to democracy but maintaining partnerships with other democracies is also important. Between one to two percent of the U.S. budget is spent on foreign alliance.
“Democracies don’t fight each other, harbor terrorists or invade each other. Democracies support each other,” she explained.
Aside from being an author, the 66th secretary of state and an accomplished pianist, Rice has agreed to chair for the NCAA’s Commission on College Basketball.
At the end of the discussion, President Bush, Laura Bush, and Rice visited the overflow room to thank all the guests.
“Thanks for coming out, this means a lot,” Rice said.
Becky Connatser, who attended the event, said of Rice, “I wish she were secretary of state today. Scratch that. I wish she were the president.”