Why would anyone is his (or her) right mind want to be president, especially this time around? Steve Chapman looks at the ugly details:
- Maximum-security inmates have more privacy than the president does. You can’t go out to a restaurant on an impulse. You can’t drive to the grocery store. You can’t even take a walk around the block without being hounded by cameras and reporters.
Your every utterance is subject to microscopic examination. You’re dogged by Secret Service agents from the time you get up in the morning till you go to bed at night.
….On top of that, you have limited powers and unlimited responsibility, which is a sure-fire formula for high blood pressure. You can hardly do anything without first getting permission from 218 House members and 51 senators. But anytime anything bad happens, anywhere in the world, you get the blame–either for causing it or for failing to prevent it.
….The guy who takes the oath of office Jan. 20 will have, first of all, the challenge of turning the Iraq disaster into a success–a task on the order of building a sailboat on the beach in a hurricane. George Bush and John Kerry have the same basic policy–train Iraqi security forces, get more help from the rest of the world, facilitate the transition to democracy and wait a decent interval before retreating. It’s plausible-sounding strategy based on a combination of outlandish hope and total fantasy. The next president will also have to deal with North Korea and Iran and their nuclear ambitions, which may be scarier than Iraq.
Then there is the budget. In 2000, the candidates were in the position of George Steinbrenner, with more than enough cash to cover any need. But the next president will be more like the CEO of a bankrupt airline, trying desperately to figure out how to make inadequate revenues cover rising expenses. Whoever wins this election will spend a lot less time ladling out pleasures than distributing pain. [Chicago Tribune]
So what is the answer? A combination of ego and call to service are the primary reasons most politicians are drawn to the game, and once in the game, the presidency is the biggest prize, the biggest ego boost, the greatest call to service of them all. And what real politician would let a few little problems like no private life and no possibility of actual “success” stand in their way? The presidency is where the action is, and politicians are action junkies.
And winning is always better than losing. As Drake Bennett put it in the Boston Globe:
- “Presidents remake the country after they are elected, not before,” emphasizes Princeton’s Wilentz. “It’s not the elections that do it, it’s the administrations that do it.” Franklin Roosevelt and Andrew Jackson may have owed their electoral victories in part to prior defeats, but they owed their lasting legacy to what they did after they won. Elections are about ideas and interests and organization and circumstance. But they are also about power, and in general, it seems, it’s better to have it than not.
Just ask Al Gore.
I hope upon hope that Americans can at least briefly rally around whoever the next president is, and take a moment to remember our commonalities greatly outweigh our differences, but one of the greatest baseball writers of all time, Roger Angell, is not optimistic in that regard:
- Perhaps there was a time when a close and angry election like this one could be expected to produce some easy joy and a rough, semi-polite unanimity when it was over, and a little space when the candidates and the pollsters and the focus groups and the voters went home and thought about what it was that first hooked them on such passion, but it does not come quickly to mind. Now the imminent world, with its round-the-clock, round-the-hour schedule of crises and casualties and unfolding disasters, does not permit even a two-minute timeout. What we all could use right now is fifteen weeks till pitchers and catchers. [New Yorker]
Fifteen DAYS would be very nice.