Condi and the new breed

Posted: Apr 20, 2004 12:00 AM

Putting National Security Adviser Dr. Condoleezza Rice before the 9/11 commission and subjecting her to harsh scrutiny about the Bush administration's response to the Sept. 11 attacks, is actually helping the Republican Party.

Last week, the New York Times plastered front page with a picture of Dr. Rice surrounded by a wild pack of reporters. They were jabbing tape recorders and cameras at her, leaning forward en masse like hyenas standing over freshly killed carrion. Nightly, our television programs run an endless loop of Dr. Rice responding to questions from the 9/11 commission.

While all this hubbub has done little to illuminate the events leading up to and directly following the 9/11 attacks, it has reinforced the fact that this administration appoints American blacks to positions of genuine authority and power.

People are responding to that fact, while empathizing with Dr. Rice. This came clear during a recent appearance on Radio One's "Live at Five," with Latoya Foster. Callers were effusive in their admiration for Dr. Rice. "I'm not a Republican, but Condi Rice made me proud," said one caller. "This black lady defended this country," said another.

These callers had a visceral response to seeing Dr. Rice discussing complex foreign policy matters on TV. In her, they saw an alternative to the standard model of black achievement. They saw someone who discusses politics in terms of issues, rather than just race or racial discrimination. They saw a black leader who does not define herself purely as an extension of the civil rights movement.

More and more, this is what the younger generation of black Americans want from their leaders. They want people who can discuss politics by issues, not race. They want black leaders who have corporate experience and can confront the racial economic gap without singing the tune of the forever victim.

The Democrats aren't offering that (they are married to the old guard).

Into this vacuum has come a new breed, such as Congressman Harold Ford Jr., Georgia congresswoman Denise Majette, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick and Newark's former City Councilman Corey Booker. These are black leaders who talk race, yes, but they also talk about school vouchers, using government funds to support religious charities and - perhaps most importantly - they supplant the victim theology with a powerful message of individual striving and economic empowerment.

On the national level, we see this shift in the appointments of Gen. Colin Powell as secretary of state and Condoleezza Rice as national security adviser. Every time Dr. Rice answers a question from the 9-11 commission, she suggest an alternative to the racial populists; she proclaims that American blacks are masters of their own destiny. She doesn't respond with a stream of outdated racial covenants. She responds with informed discussion of foreign policy. She doesn't talk about getting a seat at the table. She takes charge of the table.

That is a meaningful change, and one that has created a real irony: The more the Democrats use the 9-11 commission to assail the Bush administration, the more the public understands that the Republican Party offers opportunities for blacks that extend beyond all the old covenants, and the more they end up helping the Republican Party usher in a new chapter in the black political narrative.