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HOW TO GET CONDI TO POWER

HOW TO GET CONDI TO POWER

The "Draft Condi" movement is picking up pace. A Condoleezza Rice 2008 candidacy appeals to an array of varied but complementary components in the Republican coalition -- and for good reason. But the "Condistas" have failed to realize the tremendous obstacles in the way of a potential Condi candidacy.

Rice's Appeal

The notion of a Rice presidency is appealing to three different groups within the GOP. First and foremost is the moderate wing of the party. Secretary Rice combines an unwavering hawkish foreign policy with socially moderate positions on abortion, race relations, etc. She is a deeply religious person who is nonetheless not, politically speaking, guided by religion. And as such, she appeals to Republicans worried about the rise of Evangelicals evident during the Bush presidency.

Obviously, Rice not only represents, but also embodies, the socially inclusive element in the Party of Lincoln. This element has been growing steadily over the past two decades, and now accounts for a large chunk of the Republican block. But Democrats have somehow managed to lock public opinion onto a dated caricature of the GOP as the party of rich white men whose only agenda is the survival of rich white men's hegemony. This caricature would be punctured once and for all by the candidacy of a black woman of humble Alabaman origins.

This is also part of her appeal to a second Republican group -- the libertarian/meritocratic wing headed by anti-regulation, small-government Republicans and associated Big Business interests. Despite the challenges presented by her racial and socioeconomic background, Rice ascended to her current stature on the merit of her intellectual and moral character. Moreover, the aura of incompetence that surrounds the Bush Administration -- in the wake of its preparation for Iraqi reconstruction, its evident mishandling of the Katrina disaster, as well as the huge fiscal deficits -- has somehow spared Secretary Rice, who still enjoys an image of a brilliant, focused and competent individual who gets the job done.

The virtues of Rice's competent and meritocratic image will be an immense political asset in 2008. They will acquire extra significance if the Democrats field Hillary Clinton as their candidate. The difference between a privileged white woman who owes her political career to her husband and a black woman who earned every bit of her success will be particularly stark.

This also ties to the third group Rice appeals to, the "Emerging Majority" Republicans and the pragmatically-oriented apparatchiks and wonks in conservative think-tanks throughout the country. This wing may value Rice's moderation (and competence) not only for its own sake, but also for its political potential. After all, if the GOP succeeded in locking in a two-term candidate in 2008, it will have ruled with only one interruption (Clinton) for 36 years from 1980 to 2016. This would give the GOP the status of a default choice for government in a way that would force the Democrats to move rightwards in order to remain in contention. In the long run, there is no better prospect for the conservative movement.

In a compelling National Journal analysis, Jonathan Rauch recently showed that Bush's falling approval numbers represent massive disillusionment by independents with Republican government. If he's right, the prospects of an "emerging Republican majority" may be in jeopardy. This dynamic makes a moderate Republican like Rice attractive not only to moderates but also to conservatives concerned with the creation of a permanent Republican majority.

The Obstacles

A Rice candidacy faces some outstanding difficulties, however -- ones that are systematically underestimated by Condistas. First of all, successful presidential candidates who have never been previously elected to office are extremely rare in American history, and tend to be retired generals (e.g. Eisenhower).

Second, Rice has been able to sustain her unblemished integrity precisely because she has never run for office. As long as she speaks in favor of freedom and democracy, she is bound to look dignified; once she speaks in favor of herself, sustaining the image of integrity would require some political skill we simply don't know whether she has.

Third, personal facts about Secretary Rice are likely to present a challenge to her candidacy. Rice is a strong and independent single woman in her fifties who has never been married. Marriage, with its connotations of tradition and family values, tends to be a sine qua non of a presidential candidacy. Sadly, the probability of a disrespectful whispering campaign about Rice's sexual orientation during the primaries -- in an attempt to rob from her early pivotal contests such as South Carolina -- must be taken into consideration by anyone serious about a Rice candidacy.

More generally, the entire "Draft Condi" movement often comes across as an idealistic, almost messianic, movement with no serious practical bearings or political maturity. The very term "Condistas" reflects a revolutionary and purist zeal that is quite charming in the drafting stages but doesn't work all that well come election time (Note: Howard Dean). If a Rice candidacy is to develop the requisite maturity, the mentioned outstanding difficulties must be contended with and a practical path to the White House must be charted.

The Condistas' best and wisest bet would be to get Rice on the 2008 ticket as vice-presidential candidate, preferably coupled with another socially moderate but unquestionably hawkish candidate, such as Giuliani or McCain. This would allow Rice to neutralize her first two problems -- by holding her first elected office and chaffing her elbows in her first political campaign -- and hope that the third obstacle would be overridden by the gravitas of incumbency.

Uriah Kriegel teaches philosophy at the Universities of Arizona and Sydney.

© MBM

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