Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Just Do It

The great Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey showed some uncharacteristic self-doubt when asked why he isn't considering a run for the Presidency in 2012:

If I felt like I was ready, I’d go, but I’m not. But I’m also not going to go if I don’t think I’m ready.

When I walked into the Governor’s office last January there have been some difficult days in the job. There has never been a day where I’ve felt like I’m over my head, I don’t know what to do, I’m lost. I don’t know whether I’d feel the same way if I walked into the Oval Office a year and a half from now. So, unless you get yourself to the point where you really believe you have a shot to be successful, then I don’t think you have any business running for it.

An understandable human motivation, to be sure. Everyone has probably confronted similar feelings, when taking on a new professional or personal challenge. And no challenge would be more daunting than the prospect of having to perform as President of the United States. The guys you have to worry about are the one's who aren't humbled at the prospect. You know, the type that start burnishing their records for a run while they're in their teens or 20s. Or the kind that write two autobiographies before age 45 and run for President despite not having any substantive accomplishments or experience. Give me a Doubting Thomas over these guys any time.

While these doubts are natural, they should not necessarily be determinative. Even the most qualified individuals have them. Two applicable quotes come to mind. First, from Robert McNamara who was the President of Ford Motors before becoming Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy Administration. In the terrific movie The Fog of War he relayed his feelings of being unqualified when Kennedy made the offer to him. He flew to Washington to tell him he couldn't do it and had this conversation with JFK:

"Mr. President, it's absurd, I'm not qualified."

"Look, Bob," [Kennedy] said, "I don't think there's any school for Presidents either."

What I think Kennedy was saying is that no one feels they are qualified for such a position. And there's no systematic, credentialed way in which to become qualified. But great men can, and must, rise to the occasion.

The other quote I recall is from a US Senator. I forget which one, McCain maybe? He said that every Senator at some time thinks of becoming President. But nearly all talk themselves out of it because they feel they are not qualified for the position. But then they assess the current occupant of the job (whoever that may be). And then, most persuasively, they look at other declared candidates, particularly other Senators, and realize "I can do better than THAT guy."

Taking a relative, rather than objective assessment of performance in the office. If Christie were to consider a run from this perspective -- Can he do better than Obama? Better than Palin or Huckabee or Romney? -- it suddenly becomes an easy choice.