It’s no surprise that John McCain gave a shriveled, bitter, small speech at the Republican convention during which he inadvertently confirmed that the electorate – boobs, nitwits, rubes and all – were quite right to deny him the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. More war, all war, war everywhere was, alas, all McCain had to say. He is a man diminished in every way and it is a sad business to see him so.

More surprising – and pleasingly so – was Condoleezza Rice’s return to form. She gave the best speech of the convention thus far. That this may be a low bar does not mean it’s not one worth clearing. At the risk of granting the rest of these poltroons a comparison they do not merit, Rice gave the first plausibly grown-up speech of the week.

Rice’s speech – the full text of which is here – was deft and interesting in equal measure. As you might expect it contained a number of criticisms of Obama but these were, in the main, implied not made explicit. More importantly it was the only speech I’ve heard or read this week that challenged the Republican party to do better.

Dan Drezner liked it too, albeit with one significant caveat. He thought the first paragraph reminded viewers of the Bush administration’s mistakes. Well, perhaps it did. But is this such a bad thing? Here’s what Rice said:

We gather here at a time of significance and challenge. This young century has been a difficult one. I will never forget the bright September day, standing at my desk in the White House, when my young assistant said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center – and then a second one – and a third, the Pentagon. And then the news of a fourth, driven into the ground by brave citizens that died so that many others would live. From that day on our sense of vulnerability and our understanding of security would be altered forever. Then in 2008 the global financial and economic crisis stunned us and still reverberates as unemployment, economic uncertainty and failed policies cast a pall over the American recovery so desperately needed at home and abroad.

Perhaps I’ve forgotten to wear my cynicism-hat but this seems both true and an attempt to put, however briefly, everything that followed 9/11 into some kind of context. Sure, as Dan says, it reminds everyone that all this happened on Dubya’s watch but it also seems, at least implicitly, an admission that not everything that was done in Dubya’s time worked as well as even his people would have hoped. Mistakes were made, she implies, but how could they not have been given the circumstances with which these poor bastards were faced?

Perhaps that’s too charitable an interpretation. I’m a sucker for wondering what the hell I’d have done in the horrible position they found themselves. I like to think I’d have done differently but I know that’s pretty self-indulgent.

Anyway, Rice also admitted reality when she said:

I know too that there is weariness – a sense that we have carried these burdens long enough.  But if we are not inspired to lead again, one of two things will happen – no one will lead and that will foster chaos —- or others who do not share our values will fill the vacuum.

In one sense this is the usual call to American greatness but it is at least tempered by an appreciation of how much the last decade has cost the United States in terms of vigour and blood and treasure.

And she challenged her own party too:

We must continue to welcome the world’s most ambitious people to be a part of us.  In that way we stay perpetually young and optimistic and determined.  We need immigration laws that protect our borders; meet our economic needs; and yet show that we are a compassionate people.

Well, yes. And amidst a convention filled with America-rocks back-slapping she added this:

Let me ask you, though, today, when I can look at your zip code and can tell whether you are going to get a good education – can I really say that it doesn’t matter where you came from – it matters where you are going.  The crisis in K-12 education is a grave threat to who we are.

My mom was a teacher – I have the greatest respect for the profession – we need great teachers – not poor or mediocre ones.  We need to have high standards for our students – self-esteem comes from achievement not from lax standards and false praise.  And we need to give parents greater choice – particularly poor parents whose kids – most often minorities — are trapped in failing neighborhood schools.  This is the civil rights struggle of our day.

If we do anything less, we will condemn generations to joblessness, hopelessness and dependence on the government dole.  To do anything less is to endanger our global economic competitiveness.  To do anything less is to tear apart the fabric of who we are and cement a turn toward grievance and entitlement.

Again, yes. Note this too: at a convention in which speaker after speaker has pretended every American is a member of the middle-class Condi used two words that have scarcely been heard in Tampa this week: poor and minorities.

If this merits praise then perhaps it’s faint praise indeed but even faint praise is necessary at times. During a convention amply stuffed with bullshit Condi Rice offered a glimpse of a better, more decent, Republican party.

Naturally this occasioned much twittering and facebooking and speculation about Condi 2016. Never mind that this presumes Romney loses but remember that all this talk of Condi’s future is a nonsense. She gave a fine speech folks but let’s not get carried away. Unless she marries and recants her views on abortion she has no chance of being on any GOP national ticket. I suppose, however, a run for the Senate in California is not entirely implausible. I’d still bet against her however.

So let’s not get carried away. And, tediously but necessarily, let’s not assume her party will rise to the heights that, subtly but certainly, she asked it to rise to.

Tags: Americana, condi rice, GOP, International politics, US politics