Sunday, February 20, 2005

Condi: felling some presidential timber...

I should say at the outset that American Thinker is a new discovery for me. There are some very good, very sharp pieces posted over there. I'm going to take issue below with a recent post on Condi at American Thinker by Steve Warshawsky. My comments are after SED CONTRA. Here goes:

Beware the Condi bandwagon
February 15th, 2005

I am as pleased as anyone with Condoleezza Rice’s initial performance as Secretary of State. She’s a smart, articulate, passionate defender of America and George W. Bush’s foreign policy vision. But all the excited talk about “Condi for President” is wildly premature, and even dangerous to the conservative cause. For all her virtues and strengths, and she has many, Rice simply is not presidential material. This is not a criticism. Plenty of highly accomplished, successful people are not made out to be President. Rice is an outstanding cabinet official and a shining star in the Republican firmament. But she lacks the background and experience to be a credible, let alone winning, candidate for the White House in 2008.

SED CONTRA: There's nothing wrong with her background or experience. Back in the 1970s nobody saw anything ridiculous in Henry Kissinger as a presidential candidate--it was his place of birth, not his credentials, that were the issue.

No one starts his (or her) career in elected politics by running for the White House.

SED CONTRA: But that's exactly what Ike did.

True, Dwight D. Eisenhower never ran for political office before being elected President. But Ike won World War Two! With all due respect, Condi is no Ike.

SED CONTRA: The key thing is name recognition and star power. Condi has both. She can walk into any GOP primary in 2008 with 100% name recognition and high favorability ratings. If she wants the GOP nomination, she'd be very difficult to beat. Her success as national candidate for the GOP depends principally on two things: she has to convince whites they can trust her--and there's no reason she can't do that if she tries (a little help from Karl Rove wouldn't hurt). And she has to convince blacks that she's not an oreo (to put it bluntly). I think if she wins the GOP nomination the "Condi's an oreo" meme will collapse of shame and embarrassment.

(This is not necessarily a bad thing, of course, but it means Rice has no chance of becoming President in 2008.) Even Hillary, who has presidential ambitions of her own, realized that she had to start by winning a seat in the U.S. Senate. If Condi wants to be a serious candidate for the White House someday, she needs to pursue a similar course.

SED CONTRA: As above, there's no political reason why Condi can't go straight to the top.

I would not recommend that she run for the Senate, however. The American President is the chief executive officer of the nation, not the chief legislative officer. He has advisors for that. Not surprisingly, successful presidential candidates overwhelmingly come from an executive, not legislative, background. Since 1900, almost every elected President previously served as governor or Vice-President (or President via succession): McKinley (governor of Ohio), Teddy Roosevelt (governor of New York and Vice-President/President), Wilson (governor of New Jersey), Coolidge (governor of Massachusetts and Vice-President/President), FDR (governor of New York), Truman (Vice-President), Johnson (Vice-President/President), Nixon (Vice-President), Carter (governor of Georgia), Reagan (governor of California), George H.W. Bush (Vice-President), Clinton (governor of Arkansas), and George W. Bush (governor of Texas). In addition, Taft (Secretary of War/governor of the Philippines), Hoover (Secretary of Commerce/head of European relief efforts during World War One), and Eisenhower (Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, during World War Two) all had strong executive-level credentials. Only two elected Presidents since 1900, Harding and Kennedy, made their names as Senators, and Kennedy is another exceptional case. (Trust me, Hillary won’t be the third, but that’s another article.)

SED CONTRA: Taft, Hoover, and Eisenhower are excellent examples of cabinet-level officials who went straight to the White House. Powell could probably have pulled it off if he'd wanted (and if he'd failed, it wouldn't have been for lack of credentials, but because of his liberal stands on some issues). Statistically, it's a (somewhat!) more frequent path to the White House than the Senate. I would add too that whatever Giuliani's limitations as a presidential candidate, I don't think lack of credentials (Senate/Governer/cabinet) is the problem. Ditto Condi--her credentials are in order.

Rice plainly lacks these credentials. Her academic and policy wonk backgrounds, however distinguished they may be, are not the stuff of Presidents. They might impress the chattering classes, but they do not mean much to average Americans who expect their President to be a “take charge” CEO-type, who can be trusted to manage and control the awesome machinery of the federal government. Rice has never even managed a business or led a major organization, let alone exercised executive branch authority at any level of government. Her role as Secretary of State is her first significant political position. Give her time to prove herself in this job, and perhaps win election to statewide office somewhere, before even thinking about “drafting” her for the biggest job of all in 2008, or beyond.

SED CONTRA: If you can handle the State Department and help lead the War on Terror, Americans will trust you to lead the country. Condi's real political problems all revolve around the difficulties of a single black woman winning support from the married white couples that are the bedrock of the GOP coalition.

If Rice were to run for President, her lack of executive-level credentials would not be her only weakness. Politically, she has no recognizable base of support. Although Dick Morris predicts she would garner support from African-Americans, Hispanics, and single white women (in addition to traditional Republican voters), this is nothing but crude identity politics masquerading as political analysis.

SED CONTRA: this is a little hard. The basic rule in politics is that you should do well among the groups that share your ethnic background. This rule holds at basically every level of politics, and there is no necessary reason for Condi to be different. She is all but certain to expand the GOP share of the black vote if she were at the top of the 2008 ticket. The real question is how much. If she can't shake the "oreo" label that some will apply to her as a black Republican, she will risk losing. To be specific: if she only gets about 15% of the black vote, then she probably won't win. If she gets 25% of the black vote or more, she will probably be unbeatable. The probability is that the dynamics of the campaign will run in her favor: day in, day out coverage of Condi as the first successful black to be at the top of a major ticket will probably revolutionize the black electorate. She could always blow it, but the odds are she would clean up big time.

What state, what region, what economic or cultural groups does she represent? The faculty of Stanford University, the members of the National Security Council, and the Board of Directors of various Fortune 500 companies, while useful friends to have, do not make up a winning electoral coalition. Tip O’Neill famously once said that “all politics is local.” While this may be an overstatement, it nevertheless highlights a key feature of American politics: successful politicians build their constituencies from the ground up. What is Rice’s constituency? Born and raised in Alabama, educated in Colorado, living for many years in northern California (hardly a Republican stronghold), and now working in Washington, D.C., she is a peripatetic modern professional. This may have been good for her career, but it is terrible for politics.

SED CONTRA: As an African American woman she has an excellent chance to sweep the major urban areas. As a Republican, she should be able to maintain the GOP base. If she does this, then the Dems lose and they lose in a landslide. Is it certain? No. Probable? Yes.

Another of Rice’s political weaknesses is her complete lack of domestic policy experience. Although she is a Cold War scholar and defense policy expert, the closest Rice has come to working on domestic policy issues is serving on the Board of a Bay-area educational foundation and as Vice-President of her local chapter of the Boys and Girls Club of America. While these are admirable endeavors, they are hardly sufficient for someone who wants to be President of the United States. Even after 9/11, domestic policy issues – including Social Security, health care, taxes, crime, education, tort reform, and welfare – remain the centerpiece of presidential politics. As governor of Texas, President Bush gained experience and credibility in these areas, something Rice sorely lacks. Rice needs to establish her own domestic policy bona fides, before she will be in a position to contend for the White House.

SED CONTRA: as a university prof she has excellent credentials for telling every family in America she knows exactly what to do to guarantee their children the best possible education. In fact, there is probably no candidate in the race for either party whose credentials are as strong. Education is a major issue with families and with married women: Condi has a chance to clean up here.

Finally, one cannot ignore the demographic factors that would play into a Rice candidacy. First, while I do not believe that Rice’s being black is a negative, neither is it a plus. I do not doubt that there are voters who would not vote for her simply because of her race, but I am convinced their number is too small to make any difference electorally. Nor is there any reason to believe that these voters are more likely to be Republicans than Democrats or to reside in “swing” states versus solidly red or blue states. So whatever political effect such racism would have is likely to be negligible. At the same time, there will be voters who will be energized by the prospect of electing a black President and “sending a message” that racism has been relegated to the dustbin of American history. (Much of the excitement over the prospect of a Colin Powell candidacy in 1996, which I shared, came from these sorts of feelings.) Although such sentiments are honorable, they are unlikely to motivate many Republican voters, who will refuse to play “diversity” games with the Presidency of the United States, or persuade many Democrats – who otherwise revel in diversity games – to vote for a conservative presidential candidate.

SED CONTRA: Here we get to the crucial issue: exactly how many votes will Condi pick up as a black woman? There's no real reason to think she'd do worse than Blackwell in Ohio--and she would probably do substantially better. On the other hand, I don't think she'd do as well as Colin Powell. We won't really know until she declares, and heads into the campaign. But the African American community is increasingly disenchanted with the Dean/Kerry white liberals who now control the Democratic party and who have more enthusiasm for gay marriage than the problems of urban America. If Condi wins the GOP nomination, BET and black radio and black newspapers across the country are going to be falling all over her.

Rice’s being a woman is a different issue, however. Whether we like it or not, most Americans – men and women – are not accustomed to having women in positions of significant authority outside the family. Moreover, I think it is safe to say that many Americans – men and women – view women CEOs, women generals, and women political leaders through a rather skeptical lens. Especially women generals. Do many people outside of NOW take them seriously, as leaders of men who go into battle to kill the enemy? I doubt it. Well, the President is commander-in-chief of the most powerful military in world history, one that is engaged in deadly hostilities, and deadly serious stand-offs, across the entire globe. Fair or not, the American people will not easily be persuaded to put a woman in this position. Consequently, any woman presidential candidate, including Rice, will be fighting an uphill battle to overcome this inherently pro-male bias in the nature of the Presidency. This is not an impossible task. Indira Gandhi, Golda Meier, and Margaret Thatcher all led their countries in wartime. But these three women rose to power in parliamentary systems, which have a different political dynamic than our constitutional system, making it easier for women to assume leadership positions. Nevertheless, I expect this threshold to be crossed here in my lifetime. But it will require a female candidate who has much more high-level political and business experience than Rice.

SED CONTRA: Steve, I don't know what you do for a living, but I spent ten years working in a hospital in Cleveland in the 1980s--and the Midwest that I lived in was ready for a woman president back then. We had women in authority at every level of the hospital from the CEO on down. On this one, I just think you're nuts. And part of the proof of it is the strong enthusiasm for Condi among the very conservatives that you might have thought would be most ambivalent. Steve, pal, the America that would have been fearful over women in power disappeared about 25 years ago... Yes, I think there would be some question as to whether any specific woman comes across as tough enough to stand up to America's enemies. But a man will have almost the same problem--and as W's Secretary of State, I don't think Condi's going to have that problem. And if it's Hillary vs. Condi, there's no question who America will trust on the War on Terrorism: Condi the elegant hawk will pluck the feathers of Hillary the dove (and no, Hillary probably won't be able to shake the dove label in Middle America: the GOP machine will see to that).

The 2008 presidential election will present Republicans with a potentially historic opportunity to strengthen their support across the country and solidify their status as the majority party in America. The choice of candidate to succeed George W. Bush will be critical to this goal. A weak candidate (a la Bob Dole) could allow the Democrats to retake the White House and make inroads in Congress. I do not know who the right Republican candidate will be. Many have suggested Jeb Bush. Others have promoted Rudy Giuliani or John McCain. Still others have plumped for Ken Blackwell, Ohio’s black Secretary of State who probably will be elected that state’s governor. Frankly, I do not think we will know who the viable candidates are until after the 2006 midterm elections. A lot can happen between now and then. But I do know that 2008 is not the time for Condoleezza Rice. Republicans should stop fantasizing about Rice and start thinking seriously about the next Republican President.

SED CONTRA: You're right that 2008 is important. And I agree that Jeb would be a good pick. But Condi is not a fantasy. If Powell had been kept on as Secretary of State, nobody would have said Powell was a fantasy as a candidate--except for his burning his bridges with the conservatives who are so important in GOP primaries, but that's another issue. No, Condi is the real deal. She has the potential to destroy the Democratic party for the next generation, and to do so with a power and breadth of coalition that no other candidate potentially has. Could she self-destruct? Sure. Absolutely...But so could the other candidates. Giuliani might be too socially liberal. McCain could alienate pretty much everybody (loose lips sink ships, Senator). Jeb might be too Bush, too soon. It's time to make Condi the front-runner...and watch the panic among the Democrats spread...

Thanks for the post! I disagree, but count me...

Cordially yours,



At Thursday, 09 February, 2006, Anonymous DonKrahn said...

Condi will be the next President of the United States. Live with it.


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