ABOARD THE CNN ELECTION EXPRESS IN SEAL BEACH, California (CNN) – They are five of the most frustrating words in the lexicon of American business:
“We’ll get back to you.”
When you hear them, you want to be hopeful, but you know better. When you hear those words, you know that two of the three things they may turn out to signify are bad things.
The business may get back to you and say: “We’ve decided to go in another direction.”
Or you may never hear again from the business, despite their promise.
Or the phone may ring some day and you will be greeted with the good news: You got the job.
But the “We’ll get back to you” - the bland assurance that you’re under consideration– is confirmation, as if you needed it, that you’re not in charge here: that all the power, and the timetable of that power, lies with the people who are making the decision. About you.
It’s no less true in a presidential campaign than in the world the rest of us live in. The candidates may have been hoping that Tuesday’s primary elections across the country would have settled the outcome of their own job applications - that the hire would have been made - but that’s not how it turned out.
The American people have said to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and John McCain and Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee that their individual resumes are still on file, and will be carefully evaluated. The message - an echo of what tens of thousands of company human resources departments are saying to tens of thousands of jittery would-be employees today, and every working day - is:
There are a number of very good and qualified candidates. You’re one of them. We appreciate your interest, and assure you that you will be given every consideration.
We’ll get back to you.
So, if the rest of us as we watch the presidential campaign have asked ourselves how, leading up to today‘s developments, someone like Romney could do it - lose a primary in Florida, get up in the morning smiling and seemingly full of enthusiasm, fly all the way across the country to California that same day, emerge from his plane smiling even more broadly, participate in a debate in California, then lose there, too, then pause in private and take the eight-count while down on the canvas before getting back up, putting on his suit and his smile again, and heading for the next appointment…
It’s because as long as a person hears “We’ll get back to you,” he permits himself to think that the door is not closed. For any person to run for president requires such a heartiness of ego and self-regard - these are people accustomed to getting their own way - that it must be a humbling experience to keep being told that no decision has been made yet. The presidential candidates are not people who are used to being kept waiting.
Yet there they are, out in the reception area, their hats figuratively in their hands. And with each succeeding primary this year, all of them have been told by the country:
We’re still making up our minds. We want to be absolutely sure that we hire the best person for the job.
Thank you for your continuing interest in working for us.
We appreciate your patience, Mrs. Clinton, Mr. Obama, Mr. McCain, Mr. Romney, Mr. Huckabee.
We have your number.
We’ll get back to you.
Bob Greene is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author.