It is generally easy to tell if someone wants a job or not. For most jobs, it goes as follows.
“Do you want to be a drywall carpenter?” “No.” “Okay.”
With the vice presidency, it’s different.
“Do you want to be the vice president?”
“So you’re considering it?”
The more you deny it, the worse it gets.
“I notice you aren’t saying ‘No’ any more.”
“Nothing would give me less pleasure than the vice presidency. I would sooner lead apes in Hell. I would sooner tear out all my vitals with a long hook. If anyone offered me the position, I would spit in his eye.”
“So you’re considering what to do if someone offers it.”
Nothing you say makes any difference. Get a tattoo that reads, “Please don’t nominate me to be vice president,” and from the side, it looks like “Nominate me to be vice president!”
It’s one of the rare occasions when “no” means “yes” and “yes ” means you’re trying too hard.
It could be argued that this is only the rule because no one, in fact, wants to be the vice president. As satirized on HBO’s “Veep,” the position is an exercise in futility. It is a warm body kept around, like inflatable life vests and under-seat cushions, in the event of an emergency, but otherwise useless and largely decorative. John Nance Garner, FDR’s first vice president, famously described the office as “the spare tire on the automobile of government” and “not worth a bucket of warm spit.” And he served two full terms!
Now Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney are hitting the campaign trail together in an effort that some voters see as a VP tryout. No matter what Senator Rubio says. “I don’t want to be the vice president right now, or maybe ever. I really want to do a good job in the Senate,” he keeps insisting.
And maybe he means it, (Jeb Bush would “be a fantastic vice president!”), but what a bizarre custom. It’s as sincere as refusing the last cookie. (“I really couldn’t”) or accepting a giant Zales-based wad of diamonds from your intended (“You shouldn’t have”).
You deny it adamantly and colorfully. You deny it blandly and repeatedly. You deny it with every adverb you can think of, but it doesn’t make a whit of difference. “Anyone who says he won’t resign four times, will,” said John Kenneth Galbraith.
Anyone who says he’s not resigned to the possibility of being vice president four times — definitely is.
And it’s only one manifestation of a broader tradition. Anyone who wants to work in Washington must begin by adamantly denying this fact. This progresses to disavowing the city and its culture (did you see that Versailles replica? Shame!) and insisting that it is a fetid swamp of vice. Then eventually you concede that perhaps a new broom may sweep clean and that you are, in fact, that new broom. It’s a complicated dance, the courtship that begins by slapping the intended across the face.
But there’s plenty of time to make up for it once you get here.