In her new memoir, former Security of State Condoleezaa Rice sheds new light on her early life growing up in Alabama as well as her time in the Bush Administration.
Over the weekend, Newsweek released an excerpt of Rice’s upcoming memoir, No Higher Honor, and she had some interesting things to say about the Bush Administration’s handling of Hurricane Katrina.
Although Rice has defended President Bush against critics who assert the President left many in New Orleans to suffer during Hurricane Katrina because they were Black, Rice writes that once she saw images from the hurricane, she knew President Bush had “a race problem.”
Rice, who later regretted seeing a Broadway show and going shopping while Hurricane Katrina crashed into the Gulf Coast, wrote:
The next morning, I went shopping at the Ferragamo shoe store down the block from my hotel, returned to the Palace to await Randy and Mariann’s arrival, and again turned on the television. The airwaves were filled with devastating pictures from New Orleans. And the faces of most of the people in distress were black. I knew right away that I should never have left Washington. I called my chief of staff, Brian Gunderson. “I’m coming home,” I said.
“Yeah. You’d better do that,” he answered.
Then I called the President. “Mr. President, I’m coming back. I don’t know how much I can do, but we clearly have a race problem,” I said.
“Yeah. Why don’t you come on back?” he answered.
I actually hadn’t expected that from the President. That’s odd, I thought. He’d been so insistent that I go and get some rest. He’s really worried. “Maybe I can go to Houston to represent you,” I said.
“Well, just come on back, and we can talk about it then,” he replied.
A few minutes later, my senior advisor, Jim Wilkinson, walked into my suite. “Boss, I should have seen this coming,” he said. He showed me the day’s Drudge Report headline on the Web: “Eyewitness: Sec of State Condi Rice laughs it up at ‘Spamalot’ while Gulf Coast lays in tatter.” “Get a plane up here to take me home,” I said. I called Mariann and Randy and apologized and then sat there kicking myself for having been so tone-deaf. I wasn’t just the secretary of state with responsibility for foreign affairs; I was the highest-ranking black in the administration and a key advisor to the President. What had I been thinking?
Despite the Administration’s seemingly slow response, and her admitted “tone-deafness” to the enormity of the situation, Security Rice rebuffs the idea that President Bush left many in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast to fend for themselves because they were Black.
Clearly the response of the federal government was slower than the President himself wanted it to be, and there were many missteps, both in perception and in reality. I’m still mad at myself for only belatedly understanding my own role and responsibilities in the crisis.
Yet for me the lingering wound of Katrina is that some used the explosive “race card” to paint the President as a prejudiced, uncaring man. It was so unfair, cynical, and irresponsible. At the end of my visit to Mobile, I told the press, “Nobody, especially the President, would have left people unattended on the basis of race.” I am to this day appalled that it was necessary to say it.
What do you think of Condoleezza Rice’s assessment of President Bush’s handling of Katrina? Did the President have “a race problem”?