The speech program for Wednesday evening at the Republican National Convention happened to be lackluster. But the keynote address delivered by former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the end of the night would have been exceptional even in a brilliant lineup.
Arrayed in a stunning satiny coral skirt suit, Rice entered the convention stage to the longest and loudest ovation of the night so far. Addressing the crowd apparently extemporaneously, without the aid of a teleprompter, she shared memories of working in the White House when the world changed on Sept. 11, 2001.
???From that day on, our sense of vulnerability and our concepts of security were never the same again,??? she said.
Like Sen. John McCain, who spoke earlier in the night, Rice emphasized the importance of national security and having a firm understanding of America???s role in a world full of threats, as well as nations whose people yearn for freedom and a better life.
Since 2001, she said, America???s role was clear: ???we stand for free people and free markets.???
???It has not always been easy, but it has been rewarding to speak for those who might not otherwise have a voice,??? she said. ???We do not have a choice. We cannot be reluctant to lead, and you cannot lead from behind.
She praised the Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan ticket for support of a strong and capable military as well as a commitment to getting America back within its means.
???When America loses control of its finances, it loses control of its destiny,??? she said.
Then she turned to address America???s failing schools, a topic that had been largely overlooked by the previous convention speakers. Calling the foundering K-12 system a threat to the fabric of Americans, she called for decisive action to halt the downward trend.
???We are trapped in failing schools,??? she said. ???This is the civil rights issue of our day.???
In perhaps the most chilling moment of the night, she praised America for being a land of opportunity, where people are a product of their actions, not of their status. She recalled growing up in ???Jim Crow??? Birmingham, Ala., where as a young black girl she couldn???t eat at the local restaurants or buy a ticket to the movie theaters.
But her parents taught that little girl, she said, that ???Even if she couldn???t get a hamburger at the Woolworth???s counter, she could be president of the United States if she wanted to be.???
In the convention hall, the crowd roared.
Rice, who has maintained a relatively low profile since ending her term with the George W. Bush White House, has long been the subject of speculation as to future political ambitions. Earlier this year, the Drudge Report cited anonymous sources who claimed she would be tapped for vice president on this year???s Republican ticket. This evening???s speech is likely to position her as a strong prospective contender for a 2016 presidential run.
While Rice’s pro-choice stance and years under Bush might hurt her chances in such a run, her convention address may begin the new rise of her star in the Republican party.