Politics & Policy

‘Gotta be a governor,’ &c.

One thing you hear, over and over, as the presidential season approaches is: “It’s gotta be a governor. Our nominee has to be a governor. If you want to be president, there’s no experience like executive experience, and the executive experience you need is a governorship. Everything else is Sunday-show yak yak.”

You hear this line from conservatives. I don’t think it ever comes from the left. But I don’t listen to the Left much, frankly.

I would use this line myself, possibly, if my preferred nominee were a governor (or former governor). All things being equal, gubernatorial experience is better than no gubernatorial experience. But you know when all things are equal? Never.

Conservatives might want to consider the following: Jimmy Carter was a governor. Michael Dukakis was a governor. Howard Dean was a governor.


Ann Richards was a governor, Mario Cuomo was a governor — Andrew Cuomo is a governor.


If Ted Cruz is the Republican nominee and the Democrat is Jerry Brown or Martin O’Malley, will conservatives say, “Oh, damn, the Democrat has the gubernatorial experience, so …”?

Did conservatives say of Jon Huntsman, “Oh, he was a governor, hurray!”? Does the hard Right give Chris Christie or Jeb Bush credit for having gubernatorial experience? Did they extend the same credit to Mitt Romney?

When I discussed this issue at a recent forum, a reader of National Review had two words for me: Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was arguably the greatest leader this country ever had. Before becoming president, he had one lousy term in the U.S. House. And some terms in the Illinois house.

Yes, all things being equal, it’s better to have gubernatorial experience than not. What matters most, though, is what a candidate thinks and what his character is. At least that’s the way I see it.

‐Another cute trick in politics is to say that so-and-so is a “border-state governor” — therefore, he has some foreign-policy experience. When I interviewed her in 1999, Condoleezza Rice did this with me: touting her candidate, George W., as a border-state governor, “like Ronald Reagan.” I said, “And like Jesse Ventura” (the former pro wrestler who was governor of Minnesota at the time). She gave me a look and said, “You know what I mean.”

(To see the piece that resulted from this interview, go here.)

‐We hear constantly of the need for a “fresh face.” I understand that and, to a degree, agree with it. But experience is a good thing too. And it is deeply unconservative, I must say, to disdain or discount experience.

‐Mitt Romney has declined to run again, and I suppose that’s for the best. His bowing out was an act of humility. (I’m not sure you could keep me from running for president until I won.) Romney would make a superb president. But we will never see it tested.

What bothered me most about his decision not to run was the glee on the right. They were happy to have that RINO out of the way. And that left Jeb as the only RINO, you see? So now RINO-ism would be easier to beat, or something like that. I did not quite follow their argument.

These characters also said that Romney ran a bad campaign in 2012. Actually, he ran a good campaign — not a perfect campaign, but a good one. And American voters made a lousy decision. Which is their right.

The people aren’t always right, you know: in the movies they prefer, the music they prefer, the candidates they prefer, etc. I am not a worshipper at the feet of the people. When you set your eyes on the sewage that is American popular culture, why would the people want someone like Romney?

Lena Dunham made a sex ad in support of Obama. That ad did not backfire. What chances does a Romney have in a country like that?

The best-selling novel of all time, or something like that, is this S&M book. How is a Romney going to win in that atmosphere?

And yet, he came close (or somewhat close). And you have to keep trying.

There are sports fans who, when discussing a loss by their team, never acknowledge that another team was on the field. They pick apart their own team, saying what the team did wrong. And maybe their team did, in fact, blow the game. It happens. But another team was also on the field, trying to win.

Do you know what I mean?

There are people on the right who think that the public will always go for the Republican candidate, if the Republican candidate is any good. If the Republican loses, it’s because he or his campaign did something terribly wrong. The other side has nothing to do with it, and neither do the voters (who have everything to do with it).

Anyway …

‐This column hopscotches from one topic to another, and so do the media at large, and so does the world. It is perfectly natural. But sometimes I think we may lose a sense of priority. Let me illustrate what I mean.

Over the weekend, I was looking at our website’s homepage. This is what I saw, running north to south: “Super Bowl Predictions: Our pros weigh in on Pats vs. Seahawks.” “Sunday Is for Football: And church, if you have time for it.” “Never Again: Don’t let Iran commit another Holocaust.” “The Scandals at Justice: The Senate must demand answers.”

All worthy topics. And you can’t spend all day thinking about Iran and the coming holocaust. But — maybe we should? Maybe there should be a greater sense of urgency? A sharper focus? Is Iran and the coming holocaust just another “story,” among zillions?

‐That said, I’m gonna talk about the ballet. The Mariinsky Orchestra of St. Petersburg played a couple of concerts at Carnegie Hall last week. I was backstage before one of them, and a Russian friend introduced me to an elegant lady of some years: a prima ballerina of the Mariinsky (then called the Kirov), Irina Kolpakova. I was honored to meet her. I looked at her feet and said, “Is that fifth position?” She shuffled her feet and gave me a memorable dismissal with a wave of her hand.

(I Googled later and found that it was more like second.)

‐A little language? I have a friend — also a former ballerina, as it happens — who hates the spelling “Mariinsky.” That name used to be transliterated “Maryinsky.” But, in modern times, we have the double “i.” My friend wanted me to launch a movement to restore “Maryinsky.” I’m afraid I let her down (and she had a sweetly exaggerated sense of my influence. When I was managing editor of NR, I couldn’t even get junior employees to stop putting “The” in front of “National Review.” And these were people who were nominally working for me, or under me).

‐In a restaurant the other day, there was a classic New Yorker sitting at the table next to me. He sounded a lot like Norman Podhoretz — it was uncanny. Anyway, this gentleman was sitting with his grandson, I believe. And the man placed a phone call to someone else — the young man’s mother? Grandmother? Aunt or great-aunt? I don’t know.

I heard the man — the older man — say, “I’m not stuck here. No one sticks me. I do what I’m comfortable with.”

That phrase made an impression on me: “No one sticks me.” I long to attain that level of freedom.

He put the young man on the phone. The young man told the person on the other end that he was studying cosmology. The older man said, “Tell her it’s about putting on makeup.”

‐I always wanted to study cosmology, or have an acquaintance with it. Think I should try to get through Algebra I first?

‐On the street, I saw a food cart with a canopy saying “Delicious Food.” Only “Delicious” was misspelled. (I forget how.) I thought, “This is something I love about America — really love.” Do you know what I mean? I love the aspiration, the entrepreneurship, the striving.

See you.


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