Condoleezza Rice on her Katrina experience


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Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has a new memoir, No Higher Honor, and it's the most thorough look at her widely publicized (and criticized) New York vacation, which continued after the levee collapse in New Orleans and the devastation in Mississippi.

Newsweek has a substantial excerpt in this week's issue:

That evening, upon arriving at the Palace Hotel, I flipped on the television. Indeed, the hurricane had hit New Orleans. I called Henrietta, who said that the main issue was making sure our people were safe. She’d also convened a departmental task force because offers of foreign assistance were pouring in. I called Secretary of Homeland Security Mike Chertoff, inquiring if there was anything I could do. “It’s pretty bad,” he said. We discussed the question of foreign help briefly, but Mike was clearly in a hurry. He said he’d call if he needed me. I hung up, got dressed, and went to see Spamalot.

The next morning, I went shopping at the Ferragamo shoe store down the block from my hotel, returned to the Palace to await Randy and Mariann’s arrival, and again turned on the television. The airwaves were filled with devastating pictures from New Orleans. And the faces of most of the people in distress were black. I knew right away that I should never have left Washington.

Not mentioned in the memoir excerpt is this bit of coverage that day from Gawker:

Just moments ago at the Ferragamo on 5th Avenue, Condoleeza Rice was seen spending several thousands of dollars on some nice, new shoes (we've confirmed this, so her new heels will surely get coverage from the WaPo's Robin Givhan). A fellow shopper, unable to fathom the absurdity of Rice's timing, went up to the Secretary and reportedly shouted, "How dare you shop for shoes while thousands are dying and homeless!"

Back to the Rice memoir:

A few minutes later, my senior advisor, Jim Wilkinson, walked into my suite. “Boss, I should have seen this coming,” he said. He showed me the day’s Drudge Report headline on the Web: “Eyewitness: Sec of State Condi Rice laughs it up at ‘Spamalot’ while Gulf Coast lays in tatter.” “Get a plane up here to take me home,” I said. I called Mariann and Randy and apologized and then sat there kicking myself for having been so tone-deaf. I wasn’t just the secretary of state with responsibility for foreign affairs; I was the highest-ranking black in the administration and a key advisor to the President. What had I been thinking?

Rice subsequently returned to Washington and then to Mobile, Ala., where she stopped at a black church and visited with some Vietnamese shrimpers. In the book, she describes her "lingering wound":

Yet for me the lingering wound of Katrina is that some used the explosive “race card” to paint the President as a prejudiced, uncaring man. It was so unfair, cynical, and irresponsible.


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