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Peter Robinson: Welcome to another special plague time, and at home edition of Uncommon Knowledge. I'm Peter Robinson. The daughter of a Presbyterian minister, and a school teacher, Condoleezza Rice grew up in Birmingham, Alabama. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Denver, her master's degree from Notre Dame, and her doctorate again from the University of Denver. She has served in many positions in academia and government, including, as I mentioned just a moment ago as Provost of Stanford, and as Secretary of State. And as of September 1st, Secretary Rice has become the new director of the Hoover Institution, the Public Policy Center at Stanford. Condi Rice, welcome.
Condoleezza Rice: Thank you Peter. Great to be with you.
Peter Robinson: Condi, the first question is more or less mandatory. You and I have known each other for a number of years, and if I may say so until September 1st, you had a wonderful life. You taught at Stanford, you were participated in a consulting company and you gave speeches, and you still had time to practice piano and play golf. And now you have taken on a job that will involve endless fundraising, countless administrative tasks, attempting to lead some 200 fellows of the Hoover Institute. I love our colleagues, I really do love them, but they're not all easy people. So the first question again, is mandatory. Why have you done this?
Condoleezza Rice: Well, Peter, maybe I should have had my head examined, you left out. But I also, of course, I had a chance to be on the college football playoff committee. And to chair a commission on basketball. Yes, life was very good. But in the final analysis, I had to ask myself, do I like where we are right now as a country and as a world and I had to say no, I think we have challenges and problems that are piling up, that are challenging our values, challenging our freedoms, challenging our prosperity. And most importantly, challenging the sense of Americans in particular, that equal opportunity and equal access are there for them. And those challenges to the governance of a free peoples suggest to me that we need really good answers to a lot of the problems that we're facing. We need them to be based on solid and sound research, new ideas that are fully explored, explored where the data takes us. And I thought there's no better place to do that than the Hoover Institution, a place that has a very solid foundation in the notion that free people's free markets, prosperity and peace are to be sought, going all the way back to the wishes of Herbert Hoover himself. And so if I can help lead and in fact really bring our colleagues together around that joint goal that set of responsibilities, then it seemed a good time to do it.
Peter Robinson: And then let's say, we'll come to Hoover in a moment. Let's take just a moment to explain, explain your thinking actually, on public policy centers on think tanks, there were over 5000 colleges and universities in the country far lower number of think tanks far lower but not insignificant. Hoover Brookings Heritage, the American Enterprise Institute, Cato and so forth, what are think tanks for what distinguishes them from the usual or the from the rest of the academic world?
Condoleezza Rice: Well think tanks, I believe, have to have one thing that is there in the academic world and that is grounding in research that is driven by research questions, which are then asked by data and where the data takes you, wherever it will, in other words, you're really seeking, in a sense the truth from the questions that you ask. But they also have to be places that want to have an impact on policy, and impact on outcomes and impact on the thinking of leaders and those who are actually responsible for calling out and carrying out policy. And what distinguishes Hoover is that it has two other really unique features. One is it sits at a great university, one of the really leading universities and a leading University in the new technologies and the innovation and technological frontiers of the world. And it is at the opposite end, a librarian archive and so it's committed to its history. It's committed to those historical documents and historical experiences that inform the way that we think about policies. So to my mind, Hoover is kind of the complete package. It is a think tank where we care about policy where we do fundamental research. But it is also a place that can draw on those documents and lessons of history and it can do it in an environment of a great and broad University.
Peter Robinson: You've spoken of several areas of emphasis, or organizing questions. And however, you're still very new in the job, so you haven't spoken about them much. So I'd like to ask questions that have the virtue of being real questions. I really don't quite know how you're going to answer these questions. So slap me around if I'm asking bad questions or, I had Milton Friedman on the show, and he treated me like a very slow graduate student he said no that's not the intro, he rewrote the questions before answering them, feel free.
Peter Robinson: Okay One of those areas of kind of organizing question if that's the right way to put the way you're thinking about these, you have talked about the challenges or the failures. And this is the term you're using of late stage capitalism. So of course, I look up that up, and it wasn't used by Marx, but it is associated with the left and here's a definition that I found online. Late stage capitalism is a popular phrase that describes the hypocrisy and absurdities of capitalism, as it digs its own grave.
Condoleezza Rice: Right.
Peter Robinson: Now, something tells me you don't really expect or want free markets to dig their own grave. So how are you using this phrase?
Condoleezza Rice: I'm using this phrase as a challenge to us all to be provocative in our thinking, to be wide ranging in our thinking about how we get at the core of anything that's ailing what I consider to be the greatest economic system that humankind has ever created. And that is the belief that if people are incentivized for their labor, if they mobilize resources smartly, and capital smartly, everybody will be better off. I believe in free markets. I believe in free enterprise. I believe in the private sector. I believe in small government to make sure that the private sector is freed to the degree that it can be to do all of those things. But I recognize too, that those who don't believe in that are making some very serious charges about where capitalism is failing. And if we just say, oh, no, no, no, you don't understand, we're actually growing the economy. Then people will say, well, what about all of those who've been left out? And I'll tell you what happens, Peter when you're not provocative enough in your own thinking about your assumptions about what is right, is you get lazy. And if you get lazy, you open the ground to those who would dig your grave. And so my view is that unless we have answers to these questions, and I'll give you a couple of them, we in fact, are not doing our jobs as responsible stewards of the best economic system that humankind has ever created. I, of course study the Soviet Union. So I am not unaware of where late stage capitalism comes from. In fact, if you really look hard, it is a phrase that Lenin liked to use.
Peter Robinson: Oh Lenin used it?
Condoleezza Rice: Lenin used it.
Condoleezza Rice: And so.
Peter Robinson: I've looked at Marx, I was looking in the wrong place.
Condoleezza Rice: Yeah looking in wrong place.
Peter Robinson: All right.
Condoleezza Rice: And so.
Peter Robinson: So I am a slow student.
Condoleezza Rice: And so I'm a specialist on the Soviet Union. I understand the critiques. But I always say to people who say, well, how about socialism? I say, well, look, the only time that from each according to his talents, to each according to his needs. The only time that's worked is at gunpoint. It's actually not an incentive for people to create, to innovate, to produce. What it is, is a recipe for authoritarianism and totalitarianism, so that's what it's lead to. So what is our answer, however, to the following? Capitalism is inherently unequal because markets will reward some things and not others. We accept that. You and I don't get angry because Yo-Yo Ma, makes more money playing the cello than I would have made playing the piano. It's inequality of talent. With my sports friends, I use the example that I don't get mad that LeBron James makes more money than I would playing basketball, 'cause it's inequality of talent. But it's inequality of access and inequality of opportunity. Now we have the politics of jealousy. And capitalism cannot survive when you have the politics of jealousy. Because now what it says is, I'm not getting a fair shake, and therefore I'm going to take what is yours, and redistribute in a way that is, quote, equal, because I can't trust your system to do it. Does that sound familiar in the environment in which we live today? Does it sound familiar for people to say, I'm going to make sure that those people pay their fair share, as if the hard work that people have put in ought to simply be put into a kind of generalized pool where some government official gets to decide how it's going to be redistributed. So the reason that I think it's important that we take this on frontally, is that we have now descended into the politics of jealousy. I'll tell you one little story about this. So when Gorbachev met with George H. W. Bush for the first time, President Bush was trying to explain capitalism and he said something like, well, you see, somebody who's seeking benefit for himself to get wealthy himself, can actually make it better for all of society by creating jobs. And Gorbachev wasn't buying it, right. He was just his eyes were glazed over, I could see it. And finally, he said, George, George, let me tell you why capitalism will never work in Russia, in the Soviet Union, he said, we have this parable. A peasant finds Aladdin's lamp, Genie comes out and says what can I do for you. The peasant says, look at my neighbor, he has a wonderful harvest, his wife is lovely, and his children are good to him, look at me. My harvest is lousy, my children hate me, my wife has left me. And the genie says, so you would like me to make you like him? He says, no, no, I want you to make him like me. That's the politics of jealousy. And so you don't reward hard work, and you don't reward risk taking what you do is say, there has to be equality of outcome. And that's the struggle that we're in today.
Peter Robinson: So if you on the spectrum of new, well, we have free markets, enormous work and free, in some ways, decisive work by Hoover fellows and Nobel Prize winners, Milton Friedman, George Stigler, Gary Becker. And, well, I found this quotation by another Hoover fellow who was a Nobel Prize winner, Friedrich Hayek, if old truths are to retain their hold on men's minds, they need to be restated in language and concepts of successive generations. No statement of an ideal can be complete, it must be adapted to a given climate of opinion. So on the one hand, there's this notion which I get completely, of re-staging for contemporary for our time for our generation and the language that students can understand the issues that we care, restating what has already been demonstrated. But then there's also the question of actually doing new work on specific areas. And you're not going to be satisfied with just restatement, I don't guess. So, for example, education, what do you have specific, I mean, I don't want to get you, try to get you ahead of yourself, you're still settling into the job. But are there specific questions within this provocative Leninist framing of late stage capitalism that you'd like to see addressed?
Condoleezza Rice: Yes, by the way, a lot of people have not liked late stage capitalism. So I'm going to call it mature.
Peter Robinson: No I like it now. Now they know why you're using it.
Condoleezza Rice: I'm going to call it mature capitalism, and so mature capitalism has changes, has changes it needs to make. I think that the way that you deal with the politics of jealousy is you look hard at what is the social contract under lying the economic system, we know that you get great macro effects, you get growth, we've had just before this pandemic, record low unemployment, job creation, innovation, there are a lot of great things we can point to. But the social contract, which says, all right, everybody's going to get an equal chance at the benefits of that. There we have a problem. And what is that problem? I would say that one of the biggest interventions that we've always used is a high quality education for every child so that people can fully benefit. Now today, I can look at your zip code, and I can tell in the public education system from your zip code, whether you're likely to get a high quality education. And we have have wonderful fellows at Hoover. People like Macke Raymond and Eric Hanushek, and of course, Caroline Hoxby, who are looking at this system and saying, what about the policies that we've adopted, are making that high quality education harder and harder for the poorest of kids to attain. Now, I personally have done a lot of work on education reform, because as a high, as a higher Ed person, I'm really interested in the product that I get. I'm interested in the question of can, a quote elite university like Stanford, actually be accessible for a kid who grew up poor with parents who couldn't speak English? It's an important societal question. We know that what we want it to be, is that you're not trapped in your class, that generations do move forward. Now, if I look at the K-12 education system today, I have to say that it's an opt out system. What do I mean? If you are of means you will move to a district where the schools are good and the houses are expensive, Palo Alto, Fairfax County, Virginia, Hoover, Alabama, outside of Birmingham where my family lives. Now, if you're really, really wealthy, maybe you'll send your kid to private school. So who's talking trapped and in failing public schools? Neighborhood schools? Poor kids, a lot of them minority kids. And yet we have people.
Peter Robinson: Kids who need the education most.
Condoleezza Rice: People who need the education most, kids who need the education most. And by the way, I know sometimes there are dysfunctional parents who are poor, but sometimes these parents are just poor, and they need better choices. So I say to myself, why would anyone be against charter schools? Not that all charters are good, but a lot of them are. Why would anyone be against choice for parents? Why would anyone be against vouchers? And then I hear well, those will destroy the public schools. And I say, okay, if you want to say that, and you want to write that editorial in Washington Post, be my guest. But then send your kid to school in Anacostia, don't send your kid to Sidwell Friends, and write that editorial. And so the hypocrisy of that position, needs to be exposed in order to get at this question of why is the education system failing the poorest of our kids, and contributing to this sense that the social contract isn't supporting the upward mobility that we were once accustomed to.
Peter Robinson: Condi, in one of those organizing questions you've discussed, is America's place in the world today? You're a Russian expert, of course, you're interested in Russia and Europe. I've heard you discuss the importance of doing work on a rising India. But of course, the dominant foreign policy issue is China. Let me give you a quotation from a late colleague of ours. Henry Rollins, Hoover fellow, this is Harry Rowan writing in 1996. “When will China become a democracy? The answer is around the year 2015. This prediction is based on China's steady and impressive growth which in turn fits the pattern of the way in which freedom has grown in Asia and elsewhere in the world,” close quote. Now, Henry Rowan was not only a good man but a brilliant man. And economic growth, it was plausible to argue that economic growth was supposed to lead to democracy in China just as it had in Taiwan and Korea. And I was a kid speechwriter in the Reagan White House. We believed that then, for a quarter of a century and longer, the fundamental hope has been expectation has been, that as China got richer, China would become freer. And instead in President Xi, China, has a new Emperor, what went wrong?
Condoleezza Rice: Let me just say, Peter, that China has not faced a reckoning about the essential contradiction, between economic well being and political repression, yet. We don't know, maybe it never will. But I will not yet concede that they will not eventually have to deal with that contradiction. And you if you don't think they think they're trying to deal with that contradiction, look at the way that Xi is behaving. You're getting even more frantic attempts to control the message. You're getting even more frantic attempts to use the internet and social media as a means of political control, actual social credits to people for doing the right things on the internet. And if you do the wrong things, then you don't get points toward a ticket to get on a train to go to work. This is not a confident leadership. This is perhaps a leadership that knows that there are essential contradictions in that system. If you look at what's happening with Hong Kong, for instance. So the Chinese.
Peter Robinson: Brutal.
Condoleezza Rice: Brutal, because the problem with authoritarians is that they know there's no peaceful way to change power, And whatever we want to say about whatever messy democracy looks like. We can change power peacefully, and we have a prescribed way to do that. Now, if you're an authoritarian, you really don't have a prescribed way to do that, and so you're always fearful of your people. It becomes a spiral of ever greater repression because you're more and more fearful. And eventually, something has to give. And so I would not yet rule out the possibility that the liberalization of Chinese politics, I didn't say the democratization but the liberalization of Chinese politics is going to have to take place. I remember Hu Jintao telling us when he was president that and he told us this, that in one year they had 186,000 riots, 186,000. And it was that some party hack out in a province took somebody's land, expropriate somebody's land, a peasants land, they didn't have a system of courts to which they could appeal. So he and his friends, riot. The Chinese are looking at things like whether or not they need a court system that could be more neutral where people might actually believe they could win against the government. Now you start to see the nose under the tent, if you will, the camels nose under the tent, of expectations about property rights. So I just think maybe it will never happen. But I would not be surprised if the Xi experiment, his experiment with greater repression, with greater ideological purity, with going back to something that looks like the little red book with going back to something that looks like red ballet, even the arts are being effectives.
Peter Robinson: Yes.
Condoleezza Rice: This is to me a sign that they're actually worried about what you just said.
Peter Robinson: So let me, let me go with this question slightly different way. February 1946, the Treasury Department asks a couple of questions of the embassy in Moscow. And a diplomat named George, you know exactly where this is going, a diplomat named George Kennan produces a 5000 word document which has since been known as the Long Telegram. And it is an astonishing document. He describes, goes into the history of Russia, the internal contradictions of communism. And he lays out in this telegram the fundamentals of containment which would remain the essential framework for American foreign policy for the next 45 years until the Soviet Union collapsed.
Condoleezza Rice: Right.
Peter Robinson: There has been no Long Telegram about China. And what strikes me, with all of is far better than I do, but what strikes me is the Kennan was able to draw upon a body of scholarly work in which he and other diplomats were steeped. People had, of course, been studying Russia for a long time, but they've been studying the Bolshevik, they've been studying Russian communism since the Bolshevik Revolution. So how, what can Hoover do to establish the groundwork, so that you or one of our colleagues, somebody can write the long telegram, somebody can help this country, establish an intellectual framework for this staggering challenge of facing a rising country of 1.3 billion people? What can Hoover do?
Condoleezza Rice: Yes, well, we could do worse than some of what we did in response to Kennan. Because if you think about great scholars like Robert Conquest,
Peter Robinson: Yes.
Condoleezza Rice: What did Robert Conquests do? He told the truth.
Peter Robinson: Yes he did.
Condoleezza Rice: About what was going on in the Soviet Union.
Peter Robinson: Yes he did.
Condoleezza Rice: And he was excoriated Peter, by the more liberal Soviet ecological community that said, no, he has to be way off with his numbers about how many people were purged.
Condoleezza Rice: It turns out his estimates were low, about how many people were purged. And so one of the things that I would like to see Hoover do is to be true to our heritage of really supporting the best history on these places that can really inform, and by the way, we have, I mentioned it at the beginning, we're an archives.
Peter Robinson: Yes.
Condoleezza Rice: We have great historical material. We have people who want to put their papers with us because they know they will be preserved. And the truth can be told from them. So let's start by really bringing the best young historians of China, of places that are unlike China, like India. And frankly, history is being practiced in the academy, in a way that's not really very inspiring any longer. It's become ever smaller, narrower questions, about history, read dissertations these days, read a lot of the books. You know, when I was a young faculty member, I remember sitting at a first faculty meeting with Gabriel Almond and who'd written The Civic Culture and Seymour Martin Lipset; Political Man, and I mean these big questions. We have historians who can ask me questions, we have some of them now, Niall Ferguson and Russ Berman, and Victor David Hanson, but we want to attract more, who will ask big questions. And on China, let's help to get the history straight. Let's be, we already a place where I think people will put their papers to protect them. Let's do more of that. Secondly, let's from the long telegram, let's get right the couple of things that Kennan said that are applicable today. He said, first of all, until they have to turn to deal with their internal contradictions, deny them the course of easy expansion. We can do that with our military power, we can do that with our allies. One of the things that we have going for us that China does not have is we have friends and allies, China has clients, we have friends and allies. Countries like India, the world's largest democracy in a democracy that is remarkable where people who don't speak the same language, don't worship the same God have consequential elections every few years and turn over government peacefully. So let's learn the lessons of that and study those things. And finally, something that one of our fellows is leading Larry Diamond leading projects on Chinese Sharp Power. One of the things we know that the Chinese are doing that the Soviets tried to do and maybe did it more clumsily, is they're trying to create a different narrative. They're interfering in elections, they're creating falsehoods about us and about what we do. People always harken back to Radio Free Europe and Voice of America.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Condoleezza Rice: You know Voice of America radio for Europe, were not propaganda arms of the United States government. They just told the truth, they just told the truth. And so as we construct a way of thinking about China, let's tell the truth about them, and let's tell the truth about us. What has made us great is not to be top down in innovation, but to have multiple sources of innovation. What's made us great is not to be afraid of free discourse and ideas. And so I think the Long Telegrams out there waiting to be written, Hoover is doing a lot to put its pieces together.
Peter Robinson: Condi on history — that was also an emphasis on history is something you've mentioned as a particular concern of yours. I had a note here, I wanted to ask you a question. I'm going to ask it. But I had a note to myself that you might challenge the premise. But I think you've indicated just now that you agree with the premise. Well, we'll see. And so here's the premise. It's my premise, you may disassociate yourself from it right away if you want to. But my premise is, is that history as practiced in major universities has become grievance studies, it's been become captured by ideological concerns. The history departments used to be above all the place where you went to seek to understand, go someplace else to devise action or reform. But first history departments used to insist it's not necessarily explicitly, but the way to approach history was with humility, the first thing you did was try to understand what happened. All right, so there's an ideological capture, I'm continuing with my premise. And there's also for reasons I have to admit I don't understand, narrative history. The kind of history that Bob Conquest wrote, the kind of history that Norman Naimark wrote in his magisterial works on Eastern Europe. For one reason or another that isn't being done in history departments, but that is what Neil Ferguson does. And that is what Victor Davis Hanson does. So that's my premise, and my question is this, is there some way in which you look at the Hoover Institution, almost as a monastery during the Dark Ages. Where we take it on ourselves. If others won't do it, the Hoover Institution will still take seriously the task of passing on our inheritance.
Condoleezza Rice: Absolutely, I do agree with your premise both that there's a heavy ideological blanket for history these days. But some of it came for the right reasons, certain histories of certain peoples had been written out.
Peter Robinson: Right, narrative.
Condoleezza Rice: Of the dominant narrative. And certainly that needed to be addressed. But when it becomes an ever smaller set of issues that are just devoted to trying to create a specific narrative about a very specific, very small grouping of people, or very fleeting moment in history. Now we've got a problem. And so yes, I think we will be a place that people who want to do Big History will feel comfortable. Niall and his colleagues; and he has colleagues from all over the country. My co-author, Philip Zeilkow, at the University of Virginia is one of the participants in an applied history project that is going on at Hoover. How do we think about the lessons of history and sensibly apply them rather than just, as people often do when they're policymakers just kind of grabbing it, whatever historical analogy seems to suit your cause at the moment. So how do we think about that in a systematic way? And there's another reason, again, we are an archive, I really hope that we can make it more accessible to students. And I'll tell you why, I just taught an American foreign policy class of 25 kids, I had 160 applications, the best and the brightest, in majors like economics and history and international relations and. And one day I said, when we had Khalid Sheikh Mohammed under lock and key after 9/11, it would have been like having Rommel under lock and key from at during World War Two, and I got 25 blank stares. Who was Rommel?
Peter Robinson: Rommel, who is he? Right.
Condoleezza Rice: Who's he? And so it's not just for policymakers, and to be true to the history and to understand how we got to where we are. And it's not just to apply the history better. Human beings have been in some of these situations before, how do we learn from that? But it's also someone has to preserve the history for our students because they're no longer learning.
Peter Robinson: Condi, the last of these organizing questions that I think we'll have time to discuss. Technology and governance. And it here I don't have a big premise to pronounce. This is the one of the organizing questions I've heard, you discuss that I myself grasp the least. So here's what I think I understand. And the point of departure here is Bill Gates who commented not long ago, Bill Gates of all people, that social media was a poisoned chalice. That was the phrase he used. So we expected social media to bring us together and instead it's created all kinds of new divisions, spend five minutes on Twitter if you can. We hope for a burst of creativity, we got video games, we wanted innovation and well as Peter Thiel famously put it, we were promised flying cars, and we got 140 characters. So I think I understand that frustration book. What are your hopes here? What can the Hoover Institution do to restore the promise of tech? Is that the right question for me to be asking you?
Condoleezza Rice: Yes it's the right question. I mean first of all, look at where we sit. We were talking about what's unique about the Hoover Institution.
Peter Robinson: Yes of course.
Condoleezza Rice: We sit in the Silicon Valley surrounded by technology and innovation. And what I find here is that people here tend to take for granted that technology is good. Well, in fact, technology is neutral, and how it's applied, how it affects institutions, how it affects people's lives. That's what makes it good or bad. And frankly, human beings have been historically a lot better at the knowledge part than the wisdom part. We've just give you one example, of course, the same splitting of the atom that allowed us to turn on the lights from civil nuclear power, or to do medical isotopes gave us the atom bomb.
Peter Robinson: Of course.
Condoleezza Rice: So we are pretty good at discovering things, we're not always very good at knowing their effects and being able to mitigate the bad and to amplify the good. So whether it is the gene, splicing and CRISPR out through social media, out through drones, which are changing the nature and the calculations of warfare, to AI, which we have now a technology that people say actually threaten what it means to be human. I'm still waiting for the AI Symphony that's going to sound as good as Beethoven, but there's some people who say that's going to happen. And so, our institutions our 250 year old institutions, are simply being overrun by these developments. And that's why I've called it technology and governance, not technology and policy. Because first, we need to understand how are our institutions going to be responsive. And by the way, it has huge national security implications as well. You talked about China, I've told some of my Chinese friends, I think one of the dumbest speeches that Xi Jinping made was to say that China was going to overtake the United States in AI and quantum computing and frontier technologies, 'cause it got our backs up. But let's make sure that it got our backs up in the right way, that it doesn't become. Okay, so we need a national strategy. Well, fine. But innovation for us has always been from the multiple sources, so let's not lose that. We need to be careful, that we don't assume that every Chinese student working in the lab is working for the PLA, because we want to be open to ideas into the training of the next generation of a billion for people. So we have a lot of challenges that technology has brought, but we have a lot of opportunities too. The possibilities for better learning for kids and in undeveloped, or underserved communities. The possibilities, I think even about the impact that technology may have on higher education, I frankly think Peter, universities are whistling past the graveyard on this.
Peter Robinson: Oh, you do?
Condoleezza Rice: I do, I do. Because I think the hybrid learning that we're now seeing, some remote, some in the classroom, I think we're going to see more of that. And then he was coming for a long time. If you're in a class with 700 other people, or 500 other people, maybe you're better off online.
Peter Robinson: Right.
Condoleezza Rice: Maybe you're better off pacing your work so that if you didn't understand differential equations, the first three times you can do it a fourth. And so I think technology is it has marvelous possibilities, but it has potential very devastating downsides. And we need to understand how institutions are going to respond.
Peter Robinson: Condi, if you'll indulge me a few questions about you. You wrote in the email that you sent to all of us, all of us who work at the Hoover Institution on September 1st, your first day as director: my life and career path have led me to this moment. So, a question or two about that path. You grew up figure skating and playing the piano. Those are two pursuits that require hours of practice. And I mean, not just hours of practice to master, hours of practice to achieve competence. And then you got a little older and you studied Russian. Russian is a hard language. And here at Stanford, you served as Provost, the President of the university gets all the love, all the love from alumni, the Provost gets stuck with budgets, and tenure decisions that have gone sideways and telling people “nice work, but no.” And now you've taken on this crazy job. So there is something about you, that all your life has been drawn to things that are difficult. How come?
Condoleezza Rice: Well, I do believe that, it kind of starts with how I grew up and with watching my parents and watching the people around them. If you grew up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama when I did, there was hope on the horizon. Rosa Parks had already refused to sit in the back of the bus and brown versus the board of education had already taken place, and Dwight D. Eisenhower had insisted on the integration of Little Rock. If you grew up in Birmingham when my parents did, or my grandparents did. I don't know how you got up in the morning and decided that despite the difficulties, you are going to raise a family and educate them and put food on the table and go to church and make the world better, and that's what they did. And I feel so fortunate to have landed, where I am from where I came. I feel so grateful that I grew up in an America that was changing in ways that would allow me to reach potential that my parents and mentors and role models saw in me. That I just don't think I have an option to shrink from hard things. I also think that you're better if you're doing hard things. One of the pieces of advice I give to students when they're starting a major with me or whatever, I'd say, “look, all of us love to do the things that we do well, and just keep doing them over and over, because it's wonderfully affirming that I do that well.” But if you never try to do things that are hard for you, then you will never understand and believe that you can overcome things that are hard for you. And so I say, if you love math, do more reading and writing. If you love reading and writing, do more math, challenge yourself every day, and you're going to be better for it. And it's a broader message, I think, for the country as a whole. Just because something is hard, doesn't mean that it can't be done. If that had been the case, the United States of America would never have come into being I mean, we were going to go up against the greatest military power of the time with a third of George Washington's troops down to smallpox on any given day. Think that wasn't hard? People were going to cross The Continental Divide in covered wagons, they even know where they're going, and they kept going. You think that wasn't hard? You think it wasn't hard to survive a civil war? Brother against brother, and come out a better, more perfect union. So yes, it's really hard. But if you only do that, which is laid out for you, easily, not going to achieve very much at all. And so, I think I like to try to do things that are hard. By the way, I'm not always so good at them. I was not really that good of figure skater. But I kept trying, kept working at it.
Peter Robinson: Sports: you've said you'll watch anything with a score. And you've been known to get up early to work out with Stanford athletes. And you've helped this and that different athletic program at Stanford, recruit kids. So how is it that someone who has devoted so much of her energies to the life of the mind, love sports? What do you get out of it?
Condoleezza Rice: Oh, well, first of all, it's pretty clear when you win and lose, I kind of like that aspect of it. Look, I think taking care of your physical being is very important. Peter, you know I'm very religious. And I believe that you were given a body and a mind and a soul, a spirit. And that you need to take care of all of them. I also find sports challenging in a way that I find almost nothing else in the quite the same way. Although I will say there are some aspects of the physicality of piano, being able to connect with what you're going to sing, with what you need to do, and what you have to do in sports that I actually find that there's some carryover. But I just love sports and I really do think that some of it was I'm an only child. My dad thought I was going to be his all American linebacker, he had planned for a boy, I was going to be named John. He had bought the football. He got a girl. He decided, oh, well, I guess I'll just have to teach her about sports. And so it was if you're an only child, it's music with your mother and sports with your father. And so maybe John Rice is as much the reason as anything that I love sports as much as I do.
Peter Robinson: You just mentioned religion. And anybody who reads, especially your book about your early life, Extraordinary, Ordinary People. What comes through is that your parents, —the whole— the other thing that comes through is that you were raised by parents, but you were, you really were raised in a community.
Condoleezza Rice: Absolutely.
Peter Robinson: People knew each other and there were a lot of people looking out for a little Condoleezza.
Condoleezza Rice: Yes.
Peter Robinson: They believed in education. Boy, did they, but they were all people of faith.
Condoleezza Rice: Yes.
Peter Robinson: Now, the whole world knows what you've done with regard to education. But if I may, how do you…what is the role of faith in your life? And for a director of the Hoover Institution, I almost want to say how much are we allowed to talk about faith in this current environment? Do you see the question?
Condoleezza Rice: I do, I absolutely do. First of all, faith is integral to who I am, I almost it's so integral that it's even hard for me to step outside and say how it affects me. I think it's there all the time. And, it's been there for me in really hard times, like the loss of loss of my parents. I remember after 9/11 we went up to Camp David, I was so grateful that Friday night that I was in a community of faith. John Ashcroft, the Attorney General, at the time, actually plays gospel piano.
Peter Robinson: Oh, really.
Condoleezza Rice: I play Brahms, he plays Gospel piano. So he played and we sang music and it was good to know that there were people who believed that there was a higher being on whom you could call. My favorite phrase is always, “the peace that passeth understanding,” that somehow there are times when your intellect isn't enough, and you have to look someplace else. And so faith is just integral to who I am. I grew up that way. And I tell people, I'm unapologetic about it. I'm not telling other people that they have to be religious or have faith, but I'm going to tell you that I am because you won't know me unless you know that about me. Now, in terms of The Academy, I really hope that we get to the point one day when we can understand and be willing to look at religion, both as a factor in human development, and as a factor in human history. I have one experience with this one point, I was when I was Provost, I oversaw a two year committee to reform the humanities requirement. Two year committee okay? Only an academic institution has two year committees. But this was after we'd been through the whole Western culture debate, Western civilization debate, and we've gotten this job but no, our students didn't really like the way the humanities requirement was set up. So in this committee, two things happened that said to me, we're a little off base in The Academy. One was that you had to assign a book by a woman of color. Fine, I said, does my book on German unification qualify? I'm a woman of color.
Peter Robinson: That's a dirty question.
Condoleezza Rice: It turned out that I don't think that it occurred to people that a woman of color might not actually write about women of color. And so that was.
Peter Robinson: Wow.
Condoleezza Rice: That was a bit of a light going on for me. A second one was, we had to address race, gender and class in each of the sessions. And I said, well, what about religion? Religion has for good and for bad, had as much if not more effect on how human history has unfolded. So what about religion? Suddenly, people were willing to drop the others, rather than include religion. So this allergy, to talking about this factor in human development. We've got to find a way to get over it because spirituality —which is the kind of academic way of saying religion— does matter to human beings and how they develop. And so I would hope that at some point, perhaps we can even have that conversation. And maybe Hoover can help lead it.
Peter Robinson: Condi if I may, you're busy, you've got a big job, I've been saying that. Last question: This is going to take a moment or two to set up. But if you'll bear with me, two quotations. Quotation one, Condoleezza Rice, in her book, Extraordinary, Ordinary People: “The racial hatred in Alabama found full expression on September 15th, 1963, when a bomb at 16th Street Baptist Church killed four little girls who were on their way to Sunday School.” Services hadn't yet begun at Westminster — that's Westminster Presbyterian where your father was the minister. “But I was there with my mother as she warmed up on the organ. All of a sudden, there was a thud and a shutter. The distance between the two churches is about two miles but it felt like the trouble was next door.” Quotation two, Herbert Hoover in his 1959 statement to the Stanford Board of Trustees, which is as closest, as former President Hoover ever got to writing a mission statement for the institution of which you are now the director. Quote, “this Institution supports the Constitution of the United States, its Bill of Rights, and its method of representative government,” close quote. You grew up under Jim Crow. I am talking to someone who can remember the bomb blast from a church bombing that killed four little girls. And yet here you are director of the Hoover Institution, which, and Herbert Hoover, in founding the institution, stated as axiomatic the fundamental goodness of the United States and its founding institutions. What do you say to people who reject, who reject that premise? Who say “no, this country was tainted from the outset?” What do you say to people kids, students, you've been a teacher, you're all you're often on, but mostly on. You've been a teacher throughout your career. What do you say to students? They're starting in the college year, and then they're clicking over to Facebook and YouTube and they're seeing riots across the country. What does Condoleezza Rice say, to explain why she believes the United States of America is still worth the trouble?
Condoleezza Rice: I say first and foremost that human beings are imperfect. And the founders were imperfect men. But they sought to give us institutions that would allow us to move closer and closer to being better, never to be perfected, to find you, but to being better. And they sought to give us those institutions and I think they succeeded in that. Now, it is absolutely true, and I've said it myself: we have a birth defect with slavery. And do I wish that John Adams and others who refuse to be slaveholders had one on this score? And we had rejected slavery. Of course, my ancestors suffered as a result. My ancestors are both slave owners and slaves themselves. And so I understand the depth of that wound that was slavery. But what's remarkable to me about this Constitution of the United States, is that it once counted those slaves as three-fifths of a man in order to make the compromise to create the United States of America. And yet, it would be that very Constitution and its courts and its legislative, its legislatures, that people would appeal to, to eventually deliver rights to the descendants of slaves. And so whether it's the great civil rights legislation of the 60s, or whether it's the court cases that Thurgood Marshall and others won, like Brown versus Board of Education and others, the institutions were good enough to make progress on that most awful of wounds: slavery — to make progress toward delivering rights to the descendants of slaves. That is a remarkable story in human history. And that's why I believe these institutions are not just worth preserving, they're worth fighting for, and they're worth using. They're worth accessing, they're worth insisting that they continue to bring that progress. I told people when I would travel abroad, I'd say look, I don't look at the United States through rose colored glasses. Somebody who grew up in Birmingham can't look at the United States through rose colored glasses. But I will tell you one thing, when I look around the world, and I look at how people govern over difference. The United States knows that we've had a problem with difference. And we keep pushing the frontiers to try and get better. And on the day, when I stood in front of a portrait of Benjamin Franklin, to take the oath of office as Secretary of State —taking an oath by the way, to that very constitution that it wants counted our ancestors as one, as three fifths of a man— I stood there sworn in by a Jewish woman; Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was my neighbor. And I remember thinking, Peter, and I've said this several times— what would old Ben have thought of this? Well, he couldn't have imagined it, he couldn't have imagined it. But it was because people kept believing in the institutions and kept pushing the institutions, as someone said, not asking United States to be something else, just asking United States to say to be what it says it is. And that's a much stronger ground to go from than if you never had those institutions to use them. And finally, I'll just say that those of us who are fortunate enough to have made the progress that we have — not complete, not enough— but to make progress that we have, or to those who fought — to keep fighting. And so I would say to all of those young people, don't give up. The United States of America is a pretty remarkable experiment that's still unfolding.
Peter Robinson: Condi, I said that was the last question. I'm going to slip in one more. The Pac-12 canceled this fall season.
Condoleezza Rice: Yes.
Peter Robinson: That means you won't be able to watch Stanford football.
Condoleezza Rice: I know.
Peter Robinson: Condi, who do you like in the SEC?
Condoleezza Rice: In the ACC, I have to like Alabama, right?
Peter Robinson: Of course, of course. Condoleezza Rice, educator, author, diplomat and now; director of the Hoover Institution. Thank you.
Condoleezza Rice: Thank you so much, Peter. Great to be with you.
Peter Robinson: For Uncommon Knowledge, the Hoover Institution and Fox Nation, I'm Peter Robinson.