Monday, December 7, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: TWICE AS GOOD - CONDOLEEZZA RICE AND HER PATH TO POWER

PUBLISHED IN THE POST SEP 13, 2007


Though this biography has been penned by a ‘brother’ and bears the stamp of approval from Condoleezza Rice herself, it neither endorses her politics, nor excuses divisive policies. It instead assembles particular facets of her life to identify the glimmer of a luminary in the racial obscurity of the South and outline her decisive path to power. In seeking to present a ‘honorable and fair’ portrayal of Dr. Rice, NEWS WEEK CHIEF OF CORRESSPONDENTS, Marcus Mabry abstains from airbrushing any imperfections revealed behind the ‘practically perfect’ public demeanor and instead allows them to clarify the enigma we know as Condoleezza Rice: who made history on two counts: first, as a person of color and second, as a female U.S Secretary of State. Marcus Mabry sallied forth to peace together the origins of her enduring relationship with success through in-depth interviews with Rice while her friends, family, colleagues and unnamed sources contributed to his findings. The research took about two years and what he discovers is significant, both in terms of understanding Condoleezza’s ascent to power in a male dominated, supremely white society and the source of her symbiotic relationship with the Bush administration given the abiding allegiance to its agenda.

Appointed to Stanford’s faculty at 25, NSC director at 34, Stanford Provost at 38, NSC - National Security Advisor at 46 and finally Secretary of State by 50, Condoleezza Rice ranks fourth this year among 100 most powerful women of the world. History singles her out for having held extraordinary appointments for a person of her gender and race but the book duly credits her amazingly disciplined early life and strong family influences that, at the age of nine, made her announce intentions of being inside the White House someday.

Divided into three parts, the focus steadily shifts from her early days in the South, to education in Stanford and a career path that led to the White House. Part one: ‘Alabama Steel’ begins in the racially charged South where the struggle for integration that defined the city of Birmingham in the 1960’s neither deterred nor distracted the Rice family from the long term goals they set for their only daughter; that of succeeding at all odds. Her family decided not to join in the clamor for equal rights but to seek it on their own and Rice skated, played piano and grew up free to pursue the American dream among a race imprisoned by color. Although Rice projects the impact of segregation according to her unique perceptive, testimonies from friends and family conflicts with her recollections and has not escaped comment from Marcus Mabry. Notwithstanding her sterilized upbringing, events of the racially charged South clearly contributed to the steely resolve developed to vanquish seemingly insurmountable odds a person of her color and gender had to endure as a matter of course. And she did so admirably, but the example cited on Page-261, of the Pakistani Prime Minister being reduced to a dithering fool in her presence seemed like an excessive way to demonstrate as Marcus put it, her ‘strong will’.

Part 2: ‘Higher Learning’ concentrates on the abilities and progressive career path of a young Condoleezza – starting with her entry into the academic world from Denver “where she lived a life of privilege rare for a middle class girl”- where she gave up her cherished dream of being a concert pianist and where her new major finally set the tone for an upcoming illustrious career. Mabry identifies inexplicable factors behind her ascendancy from Senior Staffer on the NSC with Bush 41 to the top echelon of power that saw her first groom a politically challenged Bush 43 for presidency as a foreign policy advisor, assume the role of the ‘most recognizable National Security Advisor since Kissinger’ and subsequently, take over as Secretary of State, wielding more power than many of her predecessors.

Excerpts from ‘State of Denial’ by Bob Woodward and ‘Soldier’ by Karen de young are incorporated within Mabry’s version of events in the final portion where he reflects on the mettle of a woman up against Colin Powell, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld; tough enough to withstand the grilling regarding the alleged intelligence failure of 9/11, well able to counter criticisms to a sluggish Katrina response and facing the ultimate test of her skills and judgment as she continues to defend the Iraq War and her President. The author muses that being a survivor herself, perhaps made Rice less willing to concede defeat or tolerate dissent. Bush calls her a sister and she was his ‘Yoda’ and remains his most loyal soldier; her closeness with Bush has been illustrated through a Freudian slip she allegedly made by nearly referring to him as her husband and though Rice does not recall the incident, it has been cited more than once.

‘Twice as Good’ set out to capture the inner complexities of a person who owes much to her parent’s philosophy that required a person of color to be twice as good as the majority. Such resolve is the driving force behind Condoleezza’s rising star; her personal belief that demands her to ‘move on, get over it’ explains the upbeat tenor of her life. Marcus believes that “Rice’s firsts are her most significant legacies: not what she as accomplished but what she has attained.” Soon after he does contends that “given her phenomenal will and capabilities, she may yet become not just the first. Not just the only, but the best.” Other books have been released since the publication of ‘Twice as Good’ but Marcus Mabry has been the first to be granted privileged access to Condoleezza’s life since her takeover as Secretary of State. ‘Twice as Good’ is extensively researched and manages to bring out the inconvenient truths behind power and celebrity.

Hardcover: 362 pages
Publisher: Rodale Books (May 1, 2007)
Language: English
Price: $18.15

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