U.S. will weather 'governance problem' better than any other nation, former Secretary of State says

Published: Friday, Oct. 11 2013 6:30 p.m. MDT

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was the keynote speaker during the 27th annual Utah Womens Conference at the Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City on Friday, Oct. 11, 2013.

Matt Gade, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The United States, like so many nations in the world, has a governance problem, says former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"I know what we see in Washington these days is pretty tough to watch," said Rice, speaking at the 27th annual Women's Conference on Friday hosted by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and his wife, Elaine.

“Yes, you have to stand on principle, but you also have to know the difference between principle and public policy,” she said.

Rice noted that Sen. Hatch had telephoned her before her luncheon speech to extend his regrets for his absence. Hatch was among a group of Senate Republicans meeting with President Obama on Friday regarding the government shutdown and debt ceiling.

"I told him, 'Oh, that's all right. You stay right there and do the business of the people. That's what we need you to do,'" she said.

Rice predicted the United States would weather its governance challenges better than any nation in the world, in part because of the "near perfect institutions" of government created by the founding fathers.

"When Martin Luther King Jr. wanted to say segregation was wrong in my home state of Alabama, he didn't have to say the United States had to be something else. He had to say the United States had to be what it said it was," Rice said.

Contrast that to many nations in the world where people are attempting to seize their rights, she said.

"The seizing of rights is always disruptive. It's dangerous and it always takes a long time for people to move from the seizure of rights to democratic institutions," she said.

Across the globe, nations are experiencing governance problems, Rice said.

China is considered "legitimate because they are delivering prosperity," she said. "Sooner or later, people want some control in their lives."

Many nations continue to struggle with economic issues.

"If you think we have a problem, imagine this: You can retire in Germany at 65 or 66. You can retire in France at 54 or 55. You can retire in Greece … well, maybe you've always been retired in Greece," Rice joked.

The United States' federal system of government, which divides the powers of government between the national government and state and local governments, should also aid the nation in addressing its governance challenges, she said.

"In a sense, our Founding Fathers were right when some of them went back to the state houses because that's where the action was," Rice said.

"The states have become labs and incubators of reform and innovation in almost every aspect of life — education, health care or transportation. That's a good thing."

The United States' free market enables its free people to thrive, she said.

"I live in Silicon Valley. That economy is roaring because people are innovative, creative and risk taking," Rice said. "I have lived in Washington, D.C. Risk taking, creative, innovative? Not so much."

The United States is unique, too, because Americans are not captive to the class to which they are born, she said. The key to that upward mobility has been a high-quality education, although that has changed for the worse, which may ultimately result in a lack of opportunity, unemployment, living on the dole.

"The crisis in K-12 education may be our single greatest national security threat," Rice said.

Rice, who rejoined the faculty and administration of Stanford University in her return to private life, said she tells her students that clinging to like-minded people will render them unable to defend their views or recognize when they are wrong.

If people do not engage with people with different points of view, they start to think of them as "stupid or venal."

Despite the nation's many challenges, Rice struck a positive tone, noting the United States' remarkable ability to make "the impossible look inevitable in retrospect."

Rice's parents held out high expectations for their daughter, who was reared in the segregated South in the 1960s.

They would tell her, “You may not be able to have a hamburger at the Woolworth lunch counter, but you can still grow up to be the president of the United States," she said.

Rice became the first African-American woman to serve as secretary of state.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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