Why Condoleezza Rice is a historic, transformational figure

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Very rarely in the life of a nation or a culture, a person appears who represents a true healer—from a psychological perspective—of divisions and fault lines, whether of race or gender or ethnicity or socioeconomic status, that occur naturally as the story of that nation or culture takes form.

Such a healer must acknowledge the past shortcomings and injuries and challenges and victories inherent in the collective story, put it in context, and, by his or her own understanding of them and embodiment of them, make them part of a cohesive and good whole, so that the story is seen always to have had an internal axis around which it turned, a sense of ultimate integrity and a quality of manifest destiny.

In Swedish, the word for such a person or event or influential book is, kulturbärer—translated as culture-bearer.  Author Robert Pirsig described the kulturbärer as something or someone who “bears the culture on its back” and carries it to a different place.

Condoleezza Rice, with her speech last night at the Republican National Convention, qualified herself as such a person.  Her intelligence is so obvious, and her grasp of the core truths of the American narrative so apparent, that those things alone could be mistaken for the reasons she galvanized the nation last night.

But, from a psychological perspective, there are other reasons.  Ms. Rice literally transcends all boundaries of race, gender and socioeconomic status.  She is feminine, but strong.  She is approachable and warm, yet possessed of an iron will.

She comes from humble beginnings, which she honors, yet has attained success no one would deny her.  She is a black American who seems to bear no ill-will toward white Americans.  She is a former Democrat turned Republican.  She is not old and not young.

Very few people who listened to her on Wednesday night would posit that she harbors hatred toward anyone or any group.  All of these characteristics in one individual do not merely constitute a candidate, but an event.  A psychological, healing kulturbärer.

To be clearer:  Whatever vestiges of racial, gender and religious prejudice or self-doubt reside in the American people or our national character, Condoleezza Rice could literally help remove them, by her presence on the national stage, perhaps as part of the Romney administration or, perhaps, eight years from now, by her presence in her own administration.  And she can do so without abandoning our national character (as President Obama has done), but, rather, by stating it more clearly than ever, while being evidence of the best of it herself.

Last night's speech by Condoleezza Rice was a historic moment.  In years to come, that will be clearer.  But last night, I knew it, and, a third of the way through the speech, I brought my daughter down from her bedroom to watch it with me.  She is fourteen-years-old and she will struggle, as we all must, to find the best in herself.  And I wanted her to watch Ms. Rice as part of that journey.  I couldn’t even put into words exactly why it seemed so important to me, when she asked me.  Now, I have.