Politics & Policy

Powell Boom, Powell Bust?

An exciting day in the veepstakes.

I must confess, I have almost nothing new to say about the vice-presidential sweepstakes. Sure, it would be fun to see the windows explode and car alarms go off in downtown Nashville due to the sudden mass sphincter-release at Gore HQ if Bush picked Colin Powell. But on the whole, I think the importance of veeps is overrated. So let’s move to the other major items in the news.

President Clinton is back at Camp David trying to put a capstone on his foreign-policy “legacy.” Presumably, a nice brass plaque by the crater where Sudan’s only aspirin factory existed doesn’t quite do it for Bill. Now, I don’t want to write about Israel because that’s never any fun, but Clinton’s foreign-policy legacy is certainly a useful piñata —

WHOAH! We (I know, who’s ‘we,’ kemosabe?) interrupt this column in midstream because I just read on the Drudge Report that Dan Rather is reporting on CBS radio that Colin Powell is back in play for the VP spot. Instant-message windows are going off on my desktop like fireflies. So let’s get back to those exploding windows in Nashville. We can talk about Clinton’s foreign-policy failures another time. It’s not like Africa is poised to sprout Gaps and Starbucks overnight.


Until recently, vice presidents were only measured by their ability to get the president elected. Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and George Bush were all selected because they unified divisions within their parties and/or helped in the electoral college. Saying you wanted a vice president who could “do the job” was sort of like picking a partner for a necrophiliac; there really is no work for the veep after the election.

Most vice presidents were entirely out of the loop. Truman didn’t even know about the atomic bomb until he became president. The elder George Bush did do some serious work as vice president, but it wasn’t until Bill Clinton came along that the vice president became a vanity plate for the presidential candidate. Gore didn’t balance the ticket, except that Gore, unlike his boss, wasn’t a degenerate or a draft dodger who gave free mammograms at Oxford while bad-mouthing the U.S.

These days there are several new or renewed criteria for a vice president.

Governing. Rich Lowry, the all-wise and compassionate man who approves my paychecks, criticizes the idea of a Cheney ticket as too much of a “governing” choice. Now, I personally doubt that there is much of a governing function for a vice president to begin with, but maybe that’s the trend. If so, Powell certainly meets all of the “governing” criteria that Cheney does. He’s loyal, smart, an adept bureaucratic fighter, etc. And he’s certainly ready to be the commander in chief. Besides, nobody is going to argue otherwise, so let’s just give it to him.


What are you, high? Of course he would. He rounds out all of Bush’s alleged presidential shortcomings on foreign policy and defense. He is probably the most well-liked and respected public figure in America. And — you may not have noticed — he’s black. A “compassionate” conservative Southern governor (my new rule is that “compassionate” gets quotation marks when discussing “compassionate conservatism” because I think it’s purely a marketing trick) with a black war hero ex-general who happens not to be an affirmative-action pick, is as close as you get to a full house in Republican politics.

Remember, the Democrats need the black vote so badly that Al Gore has actually risked speaking jive. Only slightly more horrifying, the Democratic party in Missouri ran this radio ad: “When you don’t vote, you let another church explode. When you don’t vote, you allow another cross to burn. When you don’t vote, you let another assault wound a brother or sister . . . Vote smart. Vote Democratic for Congress and the U.S. Senate.”

Powell may not pull that many blacks to the Republican camp, but he would undoubtedly bring some — and he might make this kind of demagoguery politically unacceptable for Democrats. Moreover he would probably depress the Democratic black vote mightily. But the real key is that white moderates and even many liberals would vote Republican because they want to vote for a black guy who isn’t a demagogue socialist like Jesse Jackson. It’s conceivable that even California and New York could become competitive states for the Republicans.

Which brings us to the dilemma. If true, this is a great development for the Republican Party — but it’s not necessarily a great development for the conservative movement. At least that’s what some people think. One heavy-hitter Senate Republican friend of mine says: “Be careful what you wish for.” He suggests that Powell could very well take over the GOP when the Bush administration ends. Dan Quayle notwithstanding, vice presidents tend to become front runners. Do we want a pro-choice, pro-affirmative-action, wildly popular Republican at the head of the more conservative party? The short answer is no. But very few elections have been won by worrying what will happen 8 years after victory. It’s impossible to predict what the major issues of the day will be eight years hence. For example, Mario Cuomo and Bill Bradley reportedly didn’t run for President in 1988 because they believed another Great Depression was coming and they wanted to wait it out so they could play the role of FDR. The idea that the Republican party must keep the doors locked to anybody who might be so popular —

WHOOPS! We re-interrupt this column to report this was apparently all a giant false alarm. It appears that Dan Rather was more Drudge-like than Drudge. He got ahead of himself in a burning desire to be first with a story. Perhaps if he had a few more editors….Anyway, the Washington Post says it’s Cheney. Well, that’s nice too… and Lynne Cheney is a huge plus …. Election boring….losing…consciousness….

Anyway, I don’t have time for another column. So deal with it. But if this is simply another head fake from the Bush camp I’ll be pretty peeved, which we all know doesn’t mean much to them. Anyway, here are a few announcements, requests etc.

1) If you’re interested in sponsoring an NRO feature — including the Goldberg File — we’re still taking inquiries. Write to sbudd@nationalreview.com. My unbridled — professional ethics permitting — sycophancy is part of the G-File sponsorship package. 2) The NRO Motto/Slogan contest is now closed. Thanks for all your entries. We are sorting through them now. You’ll know when we know.

3) I’m writing a piece for Brill’s Content on media coverage of tobacco and cigarettes. If you have any suggestions let me know. Factual anecdotes, as opposed to long unsubstantiated theories, are more helpful.

4) You guys always bug me about not giving you a heads-up about such things. I am scheduled to be on Fox’s The O’Reilly Factor this Thursday to discuss the Bryant Gumbel piece I wrote for the magazine. They may cancel, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

5) NRO is currently going about the business of wiring our heads and hearts together for some full-tilt boogie for freedom and justice at the Republican and Democratic Conventions. If you have ideas for stuff you’d like to see us do — or not do — or only do if we can keep the nudity to a minimum, please let me know.


The Latest