Friday, February 25, 2005

Condoleezza Rice for President?

Ann Althouse, a fine thinker, writes about this possibility in her role as guest blogger at Because President Bush is already, to some extent, a lame duck, pundits, bloggers, and other political addicts (like me) are already speculating about who will be the 2008 nominees for President.

I don't think that Condoleezza Rice will be nominated for President and here's why:

First, because she's secretary of state. In the early history of our country, that was a more overtly domestic political office and secretaries of state were seen as natural presidential timber. Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, and John Quincy Adams all were secretaries of state before going to the White House.

But the nature of the job was quite different in those days. America was a stay-at-home country. The primary function of US diplomacy was to give the country the breathing room to establish its nationhood, expand across the continent unencumbered by foreign impediments, and remain free from the thicket of what Washington called "entangling alliances." (Even Jefferson, for all his pronounced prejudice for France, pursued this Washingtonian policy both as the first president's secretary of state and as President.)

Secretaries of state didn't trot the globe. That wasn't just because of crude transportation systems. It was because the "stay at home" country didn't require a lot of globe-trotting from its chief diplomat.

This in turn, left secretaries of state more time and opportunity to do the things contenders for the presidency must do for the three years prior to an actual campaign: campaign.

Today, a secretary of state's most valuable contacts reside in Baghdad and Moscow, not Boise and Manhattan. Contemporary secretaries of state must accept that, if they want to be President, they will enter the fray with a decided disadvantage.

A second reason that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for Condi Rice to become a presidential nominee is that she's secretary of state.

In this case, that means that she has spent her lifetime in academia and foreign affairs. What she does is vitally important and she may very well prove to be good at it. But both academia and diplomacy can be arcane stuff and each has developed a specialized vocabulary.

It's difficult to imagine Rice talking about bread and butter issues in Scranton or Peoria, isn't it? Even if she did, it would be difficult for her to not sound like a wifty, inaccessible wonk. State-speak may be even more impenetrable than the Senate-speak that many feel hurt John Kerry last year.

A third reason I suspect Rice can't be nominated for the presidency is that she's a secretary of state who's never held elective political office.

We may occasionally elect a general to the presidency without the benefit of elective political experience. Think: Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight Eisenhower. But we have never elected a former secretary of state to the presidency who hadn't first been an elective office holder.

We may argue with that seeming prejudice. But it's there nonetheless. Americans like their presidents to be people of action. Whether it's unfair or not, diplomats are not seen as people of action, no matter how esteemed they may be.

There may be some historical warrant for this. John Quincy Adams did serve in elective political offices, first in the Massachusetts state senate and later in the US Senate, prior to becoming President. But his tenures in both legislative bodies were disastrous. He showed the same petulance in those gigs as he later would show in the White House. He served for one term in the White House. (Adams served long in the US House of Representatives after his presidential term. Though celebrated for his stance on slavery today, he was largely ineffectual.)

But as a diplomat and secretary of state, Adams felt less constrained to stubbornly dig in. For him, diplomacy was primarily an academic discipline, which suited him intellectually and tempermentally. (It's interesting to note that when, as secretary of state, Adams made his most important policy pronouncement, he did so wearing academic regalia.) He is considered by many to have been our finest secretary of state. That didn't serve him well as president.

Generally speaking, for all of our disdain for politics, we like our Presidents to be accomplished politicians. Secretaries of state without elective political experience are not seen as politicians, even if they are advanced practitioners of the political arts.

Those are the three reasons I believe Rice won't be a nominee for President in 2008.

The two things that I don't think hurt Rice's prospects of being a nominee for President are that she is a woman and that she is African-American. I believe that this country would willingly elect an African-American woman to be president at this time. I just doubt that it will be Condi Rice. But I could be wrong; regular readers of this blog know that I am a notoriously poor prognosticator!

Of course, we are early in Rice's time at the State Department. With her travels, she's barely had time in her office chair. Who knows what the passing of time and unforseen events will do to her stock as a presidential contender?

But this part of the quadrennial cycle leading up to our presidential elections is a bit like spring training before baseball season; everyone is a viable contender. That includes Condoleezza Rice.


Stephanie said...

I don't really like Condi Rice either. I also think personally that her teeth make her mouth look too big. (No offense, Condi! I just think that way)

Mark Daniels said...

I did not say anything critical of Condoleezza Rice in this piece. In fact, I think that she is an impressive person. I was only saying that I think it will be very difficult for her to be the nominee of her party for President.

And if teeth is the test of presidential mettle, I doubt that Washington would have been elected.

Anonymous said...

Could you see a ticket with Rudi Guliani as Pres and Rice as VP? Mmm. I think it would be an interesting ticket. Maybe they would balance each other.

Pre_Lawstudent said...

For Stephanie -

It's one thing not to like Condoleezza Rice, but it's another thing to say something as petty as her teeth make her mouth look too big. Grow up, follow politics, and foreign affairs and then make an intelligent remark about why you don't like Condoleezza Rice.

Pro Condi -