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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the Gun Debate and Her PBS Documentary, American Creed

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The transcript:

HH: I’m joined by former Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice who along with historian David Kennedy are the hosts of a very important documentary Tuesday night on PBS at 9pm, American Creed. Dr. Rice, welcome back to the program. Great to have you.

CR: It’s a pleasure to be back with you, Hugh.

HH: Now we have a very divided country right now, and it’s one that’s been shocked by a lot of violence this week, a lot of traumatized young people, and American Creed maybe could not come along at a better time.

CR: We started this project, David Kennedy and I, several years ago, because he is an historian of America and looks at America from the inside out. I’m a specialist in international relations. I’ve been secretary of State. I see America from the outside in, and we came to the same conclusion, that America is an extraordinary and unique experiment to bring people of all kinds of faiths and creeds and ethnic backgrounds and nationalities together. And what unites us is a set of aspirations, a set of beliefs that you can come from humble circumstances, and you can do great things. It doesn’t really matter where you came from. It matters where you’re going. And so we thought we should try and put together a project that reminds Americans of the glue that holds us together and recommits all of us to making certain that we pay attention to your unity.

HH: You know, it’s almost the opposite, Dr. Rice, of the town hall that CNN hosted in good intention, which was deeply divisive, almost incoherent in its anger at some point, compared to the roundtable of students you and Professor Kennedy convened, as varied a group of people as I have seen, and of opinions and backgrounds. You’ve got a first generation child of a Polish immigrant. I mean, it’s just across the board. But the contrast of their conversation with that rage on last week was pretty stark.

CR: I really believe that these young people that we talked with are one of the answers to our problems. We all have to start listening to each other, first and foremost. And right now, we’re shouting at each other instead. Right now, we’re saying my grievance, my narrative, is superior to you. I have suffered more. I have been discriminated against more. And we’ve stopped listening to each other, and we’re just shouting. And so I hope that one thing that American Creed will do is to showcase a few Americans who have taken the opposite tack, who have said I’m going to find ways to unify my community, because America doesn’t operate, as you know, Hugh, Washington is important, but Washington is not really America. America is towns and communities and Boys and Girls Clubs, and American Red Cross and school principals and baseball managers like Chicago Cubs skipper, Joe Maddon, who say I’m going to make my community, my town, better. And that’s what American Creed highlights.

HH: Let me pause for a moment on the problem of violence in young people, Dr. Rice. I remember your book, Extraordinary Ordinary People, your memoir of growing up in Birmingham, which was known at Bombingham. And I thought this past week after the tragedy in Parkland and the shooting at the high school that you are no stranger to violence as a young person. You were down the street when the Birmingham bomb went off, as I recall, right? Did yo feel that bomb go off, the one that killed the little girls?

CR: We did. I was, it was a Sunday morning. We were at church at my father’s church, which is about two miles as the crow flies from 16th Street Baptist Church. And the church shook. And in those days, because Birmingham had been such a violent place, you knew immediately that a bomb had gone off. And so yes, we felt it, and we felt the reverberations through the community of the loss of four little girls, one of whom I had gone to kindergarten with, Denise McNair. And it’s something you never quite forget.

HH: So what do you say to the young people who were traumatized by this violence, and they are. I mean, they have every right to their opinion. They have every right to any way they want to express it. But what do you say to them about getting through this?

CR: I think first of all, the communities have to pull together. One of the things that Birmingham had going for it, even in those most violent days, was that the adults in the community were determined that the children were not going to be, that our future was not going to be determined by the ugliness of Birmingham. And they both challenged us to work hard. You have to be twice as good, my parents used to say. But they also told us we love you, and we were a community in which faith and family and education was preeminent. I know that it’s hard to go through something like these young people have just gone through. But I hope that the community is working with them to say if you will be, you will be in a better place, just work through this, and commit to your country, commit to your community, commit to making the situation better for each other.

HH: I also look to you for a rather nuanced view on self-defense, because I recall from your autobiography your father would sit on the porch at night with a gun across his lap because he would not adopt a non-violence if they were coming for his family.

CR: That’s correct. As a matter of fact, Birmingham was the jurisdiction of a man named Eugene “Bull” Connor, who was the police commissioner. And I remember so well bombs going off in our neighborhood one night, and my father said, he put everybody in the car and we’re going to go to the police. And my mother said the police probably set that bomb off. And that’s the way that our community, therefore, the men in our community, protected us. And I think it’s a pure version of the 2nd Amendment, as a matter of fact, the right to bear arms. I will say this, Hugh. I think it is time for us to have a conversation about what the right to bear arms means in the modern world. I don’t understand why civilians need to have access to military weapons. We wouldn’t, we wouldn’t say you can go out and buy a tank. So I do think we need to have that conversation. But I believe that the rights that we have in the Constitution are indivisible. We can’t throw away the 2nd Amendment and keep the 1st.

HH: Now you are also almost indistinguishable from, inextricably intertwined with Stanford, and you love that campus. And a lot of the great visuals in American Creed, including the bicycle mob, which I have trouble negotiating whenever I’m up there, you love that campus. What would you think about armed people being on the campus, or any campus for that matter? The President is talking about it at C-PAC. He talked about it at the White House. He wants armed teachers. How does Dr. Rice, educator, respond to that?

CR: Well, I’m not going to be one of them. I don’t really like the idea, frankly, of a gun in my classroom. I think that we need to have law enforcement protect us. Look, if people need to train people to protect our schools, and perhaps even communities want to consider whether or not they need guards to protect the schools, it’s a sad thing to think that we might, then that’s something that we should look at. But I don’t think that just arming people in the classroom is going to be the answer. I will say this, Hugh. We also have to get better at intelligence when it is a domestic issue. Clearly, with this young man, there were all kinds of signs and signals, and all kinds of information that he was a problem. And so we think about intelligence as a function that we do abroad. We need to have intelligence on terrorists. Well, I understand privacy concerns. I understand the 1st Amendment concerns. But you know, when you have a dangerous person that’s known to law enforcement, you really have to act.

HH: Now going back to American Creed, Dr. Rice, again, for the audience, it’s Tuesday night at 9pm and you’re going to want to watch this, because David Kennedy is the best at what he does, as is Dr. Rice. There is a forgotten element of legislation which is persuasion. And persuasion actually requires conversation beforehand. Do you think we’ve lost kind of a super majority grip on how laws get made? People sort of assume it’s a fast process when in fact the framers intended it to be a deliberative and often slow process.

CR: That is exactly the point. Our institutions were made to act slowly, because our founding fathers didn’t believe that government ought to have all of the answers. And so they set up a process in which we have two houses of Congress. We have three branches of government. We have to talk to each other. There has to be compromise. You know, Madison believed that, a little bit like Ronald Reagan, that nobody should be a permanent loser in a policy debate, because the next time around, you might need them. And so finding that way to talk across our differences is extremely important. And I do think that some of the way that we get our information is making it harder to do that. These days, I can go to my cable news channel, to my websites. I never encounter people who think differently. One of the things that I think universities really have to right is the echo chamber, the idea that if you have ideas that I don’t like, I will simply not listen to you. That’s no way to run a democracy. And I think it is contributing to the polarization that we see in Washington.

HH: Just a few more questions, Dr. Rice. In the American Creed, I don’t know if you’ve had the opportunity to deal with the threat posed by vast concentrations of wealth. And they’re not in bad hands. I don’t want anyone to think I’m criticizing Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos or anyone. But it’s uniquely deep, and now the gap between the half of one percent and the rest of the country is enormous. Is that a threat to even the idea of social mobility if people think that’s the very top, I can never get there? Or do you think that’s overstated?

CR: I think the problem is social mobility. I think the problem is that if we become a country in which you’re locked into your class because you don’t get a good education, for instance, that’s really our problem. I am worried about the lack of mobility. I’m worried about the fact that really for the first time in our history, people think that their children are going to be worse off than they have been. And I don’t worry that there’s great wealth. Let’s be clear. Some of the people with great wealth have been some of the most generous with that wealth to help deal with a lot of our social problems. There would be no Stanford University without Senator and Mrs. Stanford giving their quite extraordinary farm to the founding of this university. There would be no University of Chicago or no Duke. And so I think sometimes, the most, the wealthiest people have been the most generous. But people ought to have a chance to find their way up the pyramid into a better life. And some of them need to be able to find it to the very top. You know, we do have cases of CEOs who started out in housing projects and became CEOs of some of the finest companies. That’s what I want to see for America. So yes, I worry about concentration of wealth. But I worry more that we may be creating a situation in people, with which people get stuck in a particular class, because Hugh, we the people have always been an inclusive concept. And that meant that you were not a prisoner of your class.

HH: Two final questions, Dr. Rice. I want to reach back and remind people that you began as a Soviet scholar. You’re fluent in Russian. And you follow Mr. Putin and his maneuverings very closely. Last, or two weeks ago, Russian mercenaries are reliably reported to have attacked Americans with the knowledge of at least some senior officials in the Kremlin. And indeed, they were repulsed and took casualties, the number of which we don’t know. But there are lots of Russian mercenaries as well as actual Russian aircraft in Syria. What do you think is going on? Do we face the prospect of Russian on American combat?

CR: Well, this is a very serious and dangerous situation in Syria. Whenever you have great powers with a lot of military assets and military power close to each other, you have the possibility for miscalculation or accident. And frankly, Syria is a very good example of what happens when you don’t act soon enough. We had a chance to act in 2011. We had a chance to act on the red line in 2013. Fortunately, President Trump did act when he became president. But it’s almost now as if it’s too little, too late, because the Russians are now the strongest power in Syria, along with their Iranian allies. And so we have to recognize that we don’t have the kind of influence in Syria that we would like. Syria is breaking, basically, into three parts. And you’ve got Turkish-Iranian problems and conflict in one part. You’ve got Assad still mowing down his populations as he just did in Ghouta. And so the world needs to say to the Russians and to the Iranians it’s time to end this war in Syria. You have got to withdraw support from Assad, who is behaving as a war criminal. And that needs to be the message now, because we’re doing better in Syria, but we’re not doing well enough, the United States, I mean by that.

HH: Well then, let me end on a light note. I know you’re in your office at Hoover, and therefore you’re surrounded by Cleveland Browns gear, and we have the number one choice in the draft. Do you have anyone in mind for the Browns? You have any advice for the new GM?

CR: Oh, you know, I’m such a Cleveland Browns fan. I just want to say something to Cleveland Browns fans out there. You know, 0-16 was bad. 1-31 is what’s really bad. So let’s get it together this year. I’d like to, I’d like, I think DeShone Kizer, who is a Notre Dame kid, is a good quarterback. But I think we probably need to draft a quarterback. I love our defense. I love Miles Garrett. Let’s draft a quarterback, and I’m too diplomatic to say which one I’d like to see go first.

HH: Okay, I’m for Darnold, and then at number four, do you want to go with Fitzpatrick or Saquon Barkley if he’s still on the board?

CR: You’ve got it.

HH: All right. Dr. Rice, thank you so much, and the documentary is Tuesday night at 9pm.

CR: Thank you.

End of interview.


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