Many thoughts come to mind upon hearing the news that Henry Kissinger is thinking about running for governor of New York. Among these is that people (like me) will joke about the "secret bombing of New Jersey" and that, up against Mario Cuomo, he will be running as the WASP. The real question, though, is: Why doesn't he run against Sen. Alfonse D'Amato instead?
In his statement, Kissinger said he has always wanted to serve. But if he should serve anywhere it should be the Senate. It is the Senate for which he has been trained. It is the Senate that could use his foreign policy expertise. It is the Senate that oversees the CIA and confirms (or rejects) important presidential appointments, such as secretary of state.
Of course, D'Amato is a Republican and so, too, is Kissinger. So what? That's what primaries are for. If the urge for service that churns within Kissinger is to his country and not just his party, then there could be no greater service than to take on D'Amato.
We all know D'Amato. He was the senator who suggested the Congressional Medal of Honor for Leon Klinghoffer, a civilian and a victim, not a soldier and a hero. He is the senator who is allergic to issues and addicted to constituent service. They call him an "assemblyman," a case worker for New York State who has brought the mentality of a ticket-fixer to the seat once occupied by Jacob Javits and Robert F. Kennedy.
It's not hard to appreciate why Kissinger is interested in running for governor. It's where he started -- not as governor, but as Gov. Nelson Rockefeller's foreign policy adviser. For 14 years, he was part of the Rockefeller court, the one that went from Manhattan to Albany like the kings of England moving from Windsor to Balmoral. He had the pomp and status, but the power was always derived. So like a court physician of old, no matter what his talents, he could always be dismissed.
The awful truth for Henry Kissinger is that no matter what his brilliance, he has always been merely staff. There is no shame attached to that, but there are the occasional irritations. It is said that Richard Nixon made an occasional crack about Jews in Kissinger's presence and then, in a High Resignation Eve ceremony, asked him to kneel and pray as the ax of Watergate was being lowered by an indignant public. Kissinger did as he was asked; he wrote at some length about the incident in his book. Nixon kissed it off with a brief mention in a book of his own. Such is the lot of the staff man. What he thinks is sunshine is merely shadow.
There is an awfully good chance that Kissinger will wind up deciding to remain both rich and a private citizen. As a candidate, he would have to announce his position on such issues as abortion and then take hell for his answer no matter what it is. He would have to break chicken with county chairmen, confer with rural sheriffs, put up with people who think that Camp David is where you send your kid for the summer and make political commercials talking to construction workers with his jacket off. Has anyone, aside from his wife, ever seen Kissinger with his jacket off?
But the unlikely is not the impossible. Kissinger may yet decide to run for about the same reasons that Lyndon Johnson, to the shock of all Washington, chose to give up being the majority leader of the Senate and become vice president of the United States. In some sense, he wanted to be his own man -- to be named in the back of dictionaries where vice presidents, but not majority leaders, are listed. What was true for Johnson may yet turn out to be true for Kissinger. The urge to serve is just another way of saying "ego."
Whatever his reasons, Kissinger would be making the wrong race if he chooses to run for governor. Partisan politics requires a Republican opponent for Cuomo, but it does not require that Kissinger be that man. On the other hand, civic duty requires a strong opponent to D'Amato. The passion of politics has Kissinger confused. He has the right urge. But he's got the wrong race.