“So why didn’t Condi run?” a woman asked me at a dinner party, and I was reminded of an old joke.
It goes like this. A man goes to the general store for some provisions, but cannot seem to find the staple foods. Instead there is shelf after shelf filled with boxes of salt. “Tell me,” he asks the storeowner. “Are you really able to sell this much salt?”
“Me? Nah. I can hardly sell salt at all. But that sales rep from the company, boy can he sell salt!”
This underpins my theory about the people who hold appointive offices versus the people who seek elective offices. It is my observation that people who have been elected, or who have run for election, are quite sanguine about accepting appointments on various levels of government. Thus a Senator William Cohen will accept the post of Secretary of Defense when offered, as did Congressman Dick Cheney. Senator Bentsen of Texas became Secretary of Treasury for Clinton’s first term and Governor of Arizona Bruce Babbitt was later Secretary of the Interior.
This does not seem to work the other way round. We do not tend to see appointed judges and cabinet secretaries turning around later to run for high office. Your Henry Kissinger types, your Zbigniew Brzezinski types, your George Shultz types, do not show up in later incarnations hustling on the hustings. Instead they huff their way ponderously offstage to be greeted with open armchairs by academia and the directorate. They give lectures, you see, not just speeches.
This pattern starts way back in school. There is a breed of student who seeks popularity, who wants to be liked by everybody and will accept a shallow camaraderie where a profound regard is not attainable. Others seek their recognition from the authorities, the teachers, the principals, the coaches, even the parents. That first group grows up and produces political candidates from its ranks. The second forms the pool from which political appointees may be fished.
Back in 1996 folks were bruiting about the name of Colin Powell as a potential opponent for Bill Clinton’s reelection. Some of Bill’s confidants in that period have reported his being very chilled by the prospect. Yet it seemed that General Powell himself never really gave the proposal serious consideration. He was too used to selling salt to the storekeeper, I think; he could convince Presidents to name him to lofty positions. But selling salt to the consumers, getting out there and trying to win over the man on the street, was not his thing.
This explains our current Secretary of State’s electoral reticence as well. While many thought Condoleezza Rice would be a formidable candidate for President, and Dick Morris even wrote a book to make the case, she dismissed the suggestion out of hand. Once again I diagnose this as an example of the above phenomenon, of people whose entree into high office is by selling themselves wholesale to the appointers rather than retail to the voters.
Does this mean they are lacking the temperament for the Presidency? Was there some key insight employed by the Framers of the Constitution to identify a particular resilience of the persona as prerequisite for the highest office in the land? Perhaps not. Perhaps an appointed President would do just as well…provided we could have a higher authority empowered to make the selection. Putting the abstract aside, whether this arrangement is ideal or just a necessary evil, the fact remains clear. Anyone who cannot take the thought of 300 million people passing judgment on his job qualifications need not apply.
Which reminds me of the old man who joins three young fellows to form a golf foursome. “I am a pretty good player for my age,” he maintains. “But I have some trouble getting out of sand traps.” He plays them even until the eighteenth whole when they all hit their tee shots into the sand trap. They get nowhere trying to salvage their play, while he blasts his ball from the trap on a perfect arc right into the hole. “I thought you can’t get out of sand traps,” one of the men grumbled.
“I can’t,” said the oldster. “Could you give me a hand and pull me out?”
Condoleezza Rice, along with Powell and Kissinger and Brzezinski and Shultz, chose not to seek the Presidency, not because they didn’t want the job but because they didn’t want the seeking.