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Jewish World Review Sept. 26, 2003 / 29 Elul, 5763

Julia Gorin

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Not at Albright | "If anyone here is a spy, please raise your hand." --Secretary of State Madeleine Albright when it was discovered that lax security left the State Department crawling with spies posing as journalists.

"I must say the Foreign Minister was very nice….We had not spoken to each other. He did tell me, however, that I looked younger this year." --Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in July 2000, on Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun of North Korea.

She has a 512-page autobiography now. She wasn't too modest or creative to title it "Madam Secretary," what her sycophants titled her. And she credits her womanhood for Condoleezza Rice's ascendance.

The book is likely aimed at filling the void of accomplishment of her era, just as the speeches and interviews she gives are, wherein she criticizes abler leaders. In a Time Magazine interview this week, every one of her answers naturally has a criticism of Bush's Iraq policy--despite the fact that Americans still aren't sure what happened in Kosovo. As her old mentor Dean Peter Krogh at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service said of Albright when she was in office, one cannot "recall a time when our foreign policy was in less competent hands."

Albright was catapulted to power by a combination of talent for influencing people and a rock-hard determination to not let "the boys win out," as she called it. The latter in particular resonated with women, who habitually credit Albright for having penetrated a man's world amid intimidating obstacles. Unfortunately, women often mistake this kind of ambition in a woman for intelligence, their logic being: "There are enough men in positions of power screwing up the world; it's time to give a woman a chance!"

In April of last year, Albright told Canada's The Globe and Mail that she considers being a woman an advantage in foreign affairs: "I think women are better listeners and we can relate better on a personal basis, which ultimately makes a big difference in high-level, international relations." While campaigning for Walter Mondale in 1984, she "clung to the hope that hordes of angry female voters would make the decisive difference by casting their votes for the Ferraro-Mondale ticket," as Washington Post reporter Michael Dobbs writes in his 1999 biography of the first woman secretary. "It was the soccer mom theory of American politics ten years before it became fashionable."

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For all the obsessive touting she does of her gender, still unable to get over herself as the first female secretary of state even after flunking the job, this is one Woman who should have aimed lower in life.

For her old boss in the Carter White House, former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, Albright served as congressional liaison. As Dobbs describes, while he "welcomed her advice on how to deal with Congress, her foreign policy views were of little interest to him or to anyone else….Anyone trying to pick future secretaries of state from the NSC staff would likely have put Madeleine at the bottom of the list…she had no particular area of expertise."

Nor could Brzezinski, recalling her days as a student in his graduate seminar on comparative communism at Columbia University, describe her as a "special" student. "If she stood out," Dobbs writes, "it was because of her East European background" and her father's connection to Brzezinski through the academic circuit. "All of that created more contact than would otherwise have been the case," Brzezinski admitted.

About Albright's unremarkable 413-page dissertation, Dobbs writes: "Her dissertation has little distinction from the thousands of other worthy tomes filed away and forgotten in the stacks of Columbia University. Replete with dozens of pages of footnotes and a lengthy bibliography, it is a model of academic gruntwork, with few flashes of originality or brilliance."

Yet the fanfare for her from the women's movement, from its panderers in the press, and from the sector of the public that buys into it was immediate and long-lasting. It all stands in stark contrast to the comparatively mute reception that the current administration's diverse appointments have gotten. One is left waiting for the Democrats to do their usual fixating on color and gender, and credit the Bush Administration at least for appointing to cabinet Hispanics, blacks, Asians, Arabs, Jews and women.

For the most part, the Diversity Party has been dismissive. Because only diversity for diversity's sake counts. Bush's appointments are less interesting because his choices are actually qualified. And if a member of a protected class is actually qualified, he loses his protection.

Because of the Democratic Party's fixation on race, gender and national origin, minorities should all think alike. That explains why Hispanic parents should not want their kids to learn English and why neither a conservative black man nor a conservative Hispanic should be considered for court appointments. The same fixation accounts for how you get Gray Davis supporters shouting "He's a for'ner!" about an immigrant candidate, and how you get the Democratic governor responding that if you can't pronounce the word "California," you shouldn't be governor. It can also result in the Democratic Party of Minnesota discouraging black Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice Alan Page from running to fill the late Paul Wellstone's Senate seat in last November's elections.

"What did being a woman mean to your term as secretary of state?" the Time interview asks Albright.

While such questions are not beneath Albright to indulge, by now journalists know better than to insult her near counterpart in the Bush Administration, Condoleezza Rice, with such brainless questions. Because to a Republican administration they're not relevant. It's the difference between a platform of inclusion and a platform of substance, which is inclusive by happenstance of the country's physical makeup.

That's why when you employ a merit-based system, you get Condoleezza Rice. And when you employ affirmative action, you get Madeleine Albright.

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© 2003, Julia Gorin