Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Rice for Vice President?

Back in February, 2005, while guest blogging on MSNBC, Ann Althouse speculated about Condoleezza Rice as a candidate for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. Those old enough to remember all the way back to 2005, may recall that there was something of a Rice boomlet at the time. As the early months of that year wore on, the newly-installed Secretary of State felt compelled to respond to questions about the possibility that she would be a candidate. Her schedule was scrutinized for events deemed more political than diplomatic. I remember that one of my relatives got so caught up in the Condi for President moment that he stuck a bumper sticker with that sentiment on his pick-up truck. The sticker is still there, but now, the presidential nomination fight well behind Republicans, speculation is that Rice is angling for the vice presidential slot on John McCain's ticket this fall.

For McCain to select Rice would, in some ways, represent an act of defiance and chutzpah on the Arizona senator's part. It would underscore his reputation as not just an unapologetic supporter of the war in Iraq, but as one intent on continuing it with the help of one of its primary architects. It would signal that McCain intends to continue the Bush departure from traditional Republican realpolitik in favor of a Wilsonian interventionism in the world.

But I don't think that Rice will be the vice presidential nominee of the GOP, at least not in 2008. Back in February, 2005, I reacted to Althouse's speculations regarding Rice for president. Much of what I wrote there seems appropo to the current speculation:

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...

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...

The reasons I advanced for Rice not being a presidential contender apply to her as a vice presidential candidate. I'm not sure that she will connect with voters and I'm doubtful about what state she can bring in for the Republicans in the fall, the most critical political question regarding a vice presidential running mate.

1 comment:

Anthony said...

I think the best thing Secretary Rice could have done was take the job as Commissioner of the NFL when the job was open.

I've started a new Ohio Blog Carnival. I hope you'll join in; you do a good job here.