Republicans aren’t supposed to choose a woman because of what is now called the 2008 experience

By Peggy Noonan

The 2012 presidential election is unusual. It is a crisis election like 1932 or 1980, with the American people knowing we’re at a turning point and knowing that who we pick now really matters. But crisis elections tend to bring drama—a broad sense of excitement and passion. We’re not seeing that this year. We’re not seeing passionate proclamations from supporters of one candidate or the other that their guy is just right for the moment, their guy is the answer. I’m speaking of the excitement of deep belief: “FDR will save the day.” “Reagan will turn it around.”

President Obama’s supporters don’t talk like that, or think it. Neither do most of Mitt Romney’s. It’s all so subdued.

What is behind the general lack of passion? A theory in two parts:

First, people know that what America needs right now is the leadership of a kind of political genius. Second, they know neither of the candidates is a political genius.

That’s why it seems so flat when you talk to voters or political professionals.

It’s as if the key job opened up just when the company might go under. A new CEO would make all the difference. But none of the applicants leave the members of the board saying, “This guy is the answer to our prayers.” In the end, they’ll make a decision, and it will be a prudent, tentative one: “This one seems a bit better than that one.

Why do people think we need a kind of political genius? Because they know exactly how deep our problems are and exactly how divided our nation is. We need a president who knows and understands politics because he knows and understands people and can galvanize them. When he speaks, you listen, in part because you believe he’ll give it to you straight, in part because his views seems commonsensical, in part because something in his optimism pings right into your latent hopefulness, and in part because he’s direct and doesn’t hide his meaning in obfuscation, abstraction, clichés and dead words.

Think of what we face domestically—only domestically.

Every voter in the country knows we have to get a hold of spending and begin to turn it around. At the same time—really, the same time—we have to get a hold of the tax system and remake it so that at the very least we can remove the sense of agitated grievance that marks our daily economic life, and at most we can encourage growth. If you really try to do these things, you will make a lot of people unhappy. It will take a political talent of the highest order to hold people together during the process, to allow them the luxury of feeling trust in your judgment.

The next president will have to wrangle with Congress, and when lawmakers balk, he’ll have to go over their heads and tell the American people the plan, the reasons it will work, and why it’s fair and good. He’ll have to get them to tell their congressmen, by phone calls and mail and by collaring them in the neighborhood and at the town hall, to back the president. When this happens to enough of them—well, as Reagan used to say, when they feel the heat, they see the light. The members go to the speaker, and suddenly the speaker is knocking back a drink with the president, and in the end a deal gets made. Things get pushed inch by inch toward progress, and suddenly there’s a sense things can work again. That encourages an air of unity and of national purpose, which itself gives a boost to public morale.

Anyway, the next president will have to do that sort of thing, and it will take deep political gifts. We have not seen that genius in Mr. Obama. Whether you will vote for him or not, you know you haven’t seen it. He seems to view politics as his weary duty, something he had to do on his way to greatness.

When he goes over the heads of Congress to the people, it’s like he threw a dead fish over the transom—it lands with a “Thwap!” and makes a mess, and people run away. As for Mr. Romney it is a commonplace in punditry to implore him to speak clearly of where he’ll go and how and why we should follow.

Both candidates seem largely impenetrable—it’s hard to know them, figure them. With Mr. Romney, you have a sense of what he’s been, what jobs he’s held, and his general approach. But do you have a solid sense of who he’d be and what he’d do as president? Probably not. Even he may not know. As for Mr. Obama, the more facts you know, the more you don’t understand him, the more you can’t quite grok him.

Neither has a flair for politics, and neither seems to love it. Both come from minority parts of the American experience, and both often seem to be translating as they speak, from their own natural inner language to their vision of how “normal Americans” think.

What does all this suggest? That voters this year will tend to be practical in their choice and modest in their expectations. Which isn’t all bad. But joy would be more fun.

We must end with some burly, optimistic thoughts or we’ll hurl ourselves over a transom and go “Thwap!” 1. There’s still time—more than 100 days—for each candidate to go deeper, get franker, and light some kind of flame. 2. The acceptance speeches are huge opportunities to do that. 3. The debates, if they do not sink into formalized torpor or anchor-led superficialities, could be not only decisive but revealing of greater depths. 4. Mr. Romney’s vice presidential choice will matter.

About which a note. Speaking the other day to a gathering of businesspeople from across the country, I mentioned the subdued nature of the election and my thoughts as to its reasons. I was surprised to get no push-back afterward, even from political enthusiasts, only agreement.

But the news: When conversation turned to the vice presidential nominee, I said we all know the names of those being considered, spoke of a few, and then said Condoleezza Rice might be a brilliant choice.

Here spontaneous applause burst forth.

Consider: A public figure of obvious and nameable accomplishment whose attainments can’t be taken away from her. Washington experience—she wouldn’t be learning on the job. Never run for office but no political novice. An academic, but not ethereal or abstract. A woman in a year when Republicans aren’t supposed to choose a woman because of what is now called the 2008 experience—so the choice would have a certain boldness. A black woman in a campaign that always threatens to take on a painful racial overlay. A foreign-policy professional acquainted with everyone who’s reigned or been rising the past 20 years.

I should add here the look on the faces of the people who were applauding. They looked surprised by their own passion. Actually they looked relieved, like a campaign was going on and big things might happen and maybe it could get kind of . . . exciting.


11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. climber357
    Jul 13, 2012 @ 10:52:22

    Condi has already said, ¨No way.¨ She spends Thanksgiving and Christmas with the Bushs. If Condi won´t run for them, she certainly won´t run for Mitt.

    Nevertheless, ask yourself one question: Did Sarah persuade women to vote for McCain?


  2. Balzafiar
    Jul 13, 2012 @ 11:42:18

    In my view, Condi Rice would make a good President but not Vice President at this time because Mitt Romney is clearly her intellectual inferior.

    Having said that, if she were running to be President, we would all do well to remember how the Republican (and some Democrat) legislators stonewalled Obama’s efforts to enact changes, more than anything else because he is a black man — even though they deny that. Most assuredly the Democrats would do the same to Dr. Rice — then they too would deny it was racial.

    So obviously we have a problem and desperately need a fix for it. Unfortunately there is not one in sight for the time being, and that will not change until there is cooperation on both sides of the aisle.


  3. nswfm
    Jul 13, 2012 @ 12:31:25

    Nicole Wallace says she didn’t vote in 2008, so the woman who was working closest with Palin on the campaign was repulsed.


  4. TXmommy
    Jul 13, 2012 @ 15:07:18

    Peggy Noonan is thinking WAY too much of herself again. Gawd. Could her longing for the good ole days when she mattered to anyone be any more painfully obvious?


  5. dragonpuff
    Jul 13, 2012 @ 16:41:25

    This Condi stuff is only a distraction because Mitt is self emulating this week. After he race baited at the NAACP it is a bit of a joke that they are throwing this kind of silliness out.

    There is no way Mitt Romney is picking an African American woman to do anything for him—except endorse him so he could have some sort of “unsecret black friend” credibility.

    Anyway, Condeleeza Rice in no way distinguished herself in the last administration. Rumsfeld bullied her. She ignored the warnings for Bin Laden’s strike. She sucked at her job as Secretary of State and was just a cheerleader for George Ws wasted administration. As a Russian major she did not do much about our relationship with the former Soviet Union.

    She has swam with sharks and she came out limping. Plus, she has too many liberal ideas about women’s reproductive rights (the only reason I agree with her),
    so the conservatives will eat her alive. Yet they don’t seem so outraged that Mitt invested in a company that dealt with aborted fetuses. I’m shocked!

    Condi and Mitt—–not happening.


  6. tmm
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 00:46:59

    Peggy Noonan! There really are ppl finding her commentary worth reading!


  7. 99ts
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 07:30:25

    Peggy Noonan singing the praises of Condi is sounding like Bill Kristol & Rich Lowry when they thought Sarah Palin was God’s gift to the GOP (well the menfolk of the GOP anyway). Why do GOP pundits think they need ‘a brilliant choice’ – seems like as with John McCain – not much faith in the candidate.

    Mitt Romney, if he is the candidate – will choose a white male for his VP.


  8. Ivyfree
    Jul 14, 2012 @ 11:41:51

    Condi? What I remember about Condi is her shopping for shoes while New Orleans drowned. Expensive shoes.

    Oh, and her referring to Bush as “my hus.. the President.”


  9. Cracklin' Charlie
    Jul 15, 2012 @ 18:34:26

    If Peggy Nooner could get her lips off Ronald Reagan’s ass for one minute, she could to throw herself over the transom, and see what kind of sound she makes.

    Right after she groks herself.


    • Syrin
      Jul 16, 2012 @ 10:30:12

      Not really sure what all that means! I believe Peggy Noonan has proved herself to be reasonable in her approach to writing about the issues! YES! They are conservative based! FYI BEING REPUBLICAN AND/or CONSERVATIVE IS NOT A CRIME, FOLKS! At least, not yet! Why be so duragitory and ugly? Noonan is on the same page that I am concerning Palin! I’m thrilled at that!


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