It is generally easy to tell if someone wants a job.

For most jobs, the exchange goes: “Do you want to be a drywall carpenter?” “No.” “OK.”

With the vice presidency, it’s different.

“Do you want to be vice president?”

“No.”

“So you’re considering it?”

“Absolutely not.”

“I notice you aren’t saying ‘no’ anymore.”

“Nothing would give me less pleasure than the vice presidency. 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.”

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 those occasions when “no” means “yes” and “yes” means you’re trying too hard.

John Nance Garner, Franklin Roosevelt’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.” He served two full terms.

Now Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney are hitting the campaign trail together in an effort that some see as a veep tryout.

No matter that Rubio keeps insisting, “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.”

Maybe he means it, but what a bizarre custom. It’s as sincere as refusing the last cookie (“I really couldn’t”). 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 four times that he’s not resigned to the possibility of being vice president — 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.

Alexandra Petri is a columnist for The Washington Post.


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