By Eugene Robinson
Oh please oh please oh please. I know it’s undignified to beg, but please let John McCain pick Condoleezza Rice as his running mate.
I know that this campaign has already bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon those of us who are paid to watch and listen. With its vivid, compelling characters, its abrupt reversals of fortune and its ever-rising stakes, the presidential contest has been the best reality show on television. It seems almost greedy to hope for yet another infusion of star power so late in the season.
And yes, I’m aware that it probably won’t happen. Then again, this campaign hasn’t shown much regard for probability. A couple of years ago, what sort of odds could you have gotten from Vegas bookmakers on the scenario that Barack Obama, the first viable black presidential contender, would be leading Hillary Clinton, the first viable female candidate, for the chance to run against McCain, long considered a pariah by his party’s activist base?
Rice’s name was tossed into the mix by Dan Senor, a Republican “strategist” who is best known for his “What, me worry?” performances a few years ago as spokesman for the U.S. civilian authority in Iraq. On ABC’s “This Week,” Senor noted that Rice recently appeared at one of right-wing activist Grover Norquist’s regular meetings for the conservative “chattering class”—an unusual foray into domestic politics for a sitting secretary of state—and claimed that Rice “has been actively, actually in recent weeks, campaigning” for a spot on the ticket with McCain.
The notion drew laughter from Sean McCormack, Rice’s spokesman, who told reporters that if Rice is indeed campaigning for the vice presidential nomination, “she’s the last one to know about it.” Then he dusted off the formulation that Rice always uses to deflect questions about her possible political ambitions, which is to ask “how many ways” she can say no.
The thing is, though, that—understandably—Rice doesn’t go all the way and make an airtight, Sherman-like statement. Why should she foreclose her options? Given the craziness of this political year, who knows what might happen? And looking down the road, the quiet groves of academe—where she vows to retire, like a latter-day Cincinnatus—may prove less than stimulating after the heady experience of running the world. I’ve always thought it more likely that she would eventually be tempted to run for the Senate from California, rather than jump right into presidential politics.
Asked about picking the nation’s top diplomat as his running mate, McCain was diplomatic—but totally noncommittal. “I think she’s a great American,” he said. “I think there’s very little that I can say that isn’t anything but the utmost praise for a great American citizen.”
She wouldn’t bring any political base to the ticket, since she doesn’t have one. She wouldn’t bring any regional advantage, since McCain is almost certain to beat either Democrat in Rice’s native state of Alabama, and almost certain to lose to either Democrat in Rice’s adopted state of California. And while McCain has tied his candidacy to the Iraq occupation, he maintains some distance from the Bush administration by charging that until recently the war was woefully mismanaged. Rice, as national security adviser in Bush’s first term, was one of the mismanagers.
She would, however, provide three things that McCain could really use: relative youth, undeniable pizzazz and photogenic diversity. The Republican Party is in danger of presenting a ticket that looks like a tintype portrait of yesterday—while the Democratic Party shows the nation a YouTube video of tomorrow.
All right, there’s another problem. Rice has described herself as “mildly pro-choice” on abortion and pronounced her support for affirmative action “if it does not lead to quotas.” Given McCain’s apostate views on immigration, global warming and campaign finance, it’s hard to see how he could pick someone with so little regard for the Republican Party’s bedrock views.
So I won’t hold my breath. But I can’t help but imagine having another controversial, larger-than-life character wade into the fray, one who not only raises McCain’s big wager on Iraq but also takes us further into terra incognita on issues of race and gender. Whatever you think of Condoleezza Rice, she’s a formidable woman with more qualifications than almost any other vice presidential choice I can think of. We’d get to watch another brilliant political novice try to take the country by storm. And, as a bonus, there would be the piano recitals, the early-morning workouts, the skybox appearances at football games, the impromptu lectures on Russian history (in Russian), the daily fashion show. ...
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
© 2008, Washington Post Writers Group