What astounds me about this reality is: why would all these people want this job? They work so hard, travel, spend money, attack and get attacked, all for a job that totally sucks. A job I would never want if you told me you were handing me the office tomorrow. A job I would actually wish upon an enemy. These men and women running for the top office in the nation all have tremendous skills, backgrounds, educational degrees and major real world accomplishments. Making $400,000 a year- the salary of US President- means almost nothing to them. Almost every one of them is lawyer of high achievement and a measure of fame- as senator, governor, etc.- who could become a law partner and make $1M a year at the drop of a hat. The candidates who are not lawyers are a multibillionaire real estate developer-slash-TV celebrity, a high tech CEO and a top neurosurgeon with several bestselling books. Even wild man Bernie Sanders could write a kooky political comic book or put out a T-shirt or a folk music album or endorse a Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor and make a million bucks next week. So they can't be doing it for the money.
The President of the United States is just about automatically hated by half the population of the country. I think it's hard sometimes in my own life, as a relative nobody with almost zero power and the tiniest measure of "fame", to remain carefree and un-self conscious in the face of the dislike or disapproval of a few dozen people whose negative thoughts I have drawn. But to be despised by over 100,000,000 people, with a fraction of those committed to blogging, talking on AM or FM radio, making T-shirts and bumper stickers and railing in person at whoever is nearby about how treacherous, evil, incompetent and destructive you are? And with a smaller fraction within that working on radical, violent uprising and the overthrow of the government all because you and your personality and policies and approach to your office- and even your FACE- scare, offend and sicken them so much? I would think it would be one of the toughest emotional and psychological pressure cookers on Earth. Certainly not for the overly sensitive or easily offended,
I know that many would say look at all of the incredible benefits and advantages of being the President. You live in The White House, with a gigantic staff dedicated to your every whim and comfort, as well as your safety and security. Yes, the White House is a beautiful and classy building- I know, I've seen the movies Olympus Has Fallen and White House Down- but any of these candidates could buy a similarly nice property in most parts of the country, perhaps in a somewhat less high-powered location than Washington DC, but a pretty nice locale nonetheless.
Yes, the President gets to meet with astoundingly powerful world leaders and movers and shakers, but the privately wealthy and powerful and accomplished get to go to formidable dinner parties as well, and can often find their way into impressive meetings- for instance Carly Fiorina, a businesswoman, has hung out and shared vodka and borscht with Vladimir Putin, where they discussing the global East/West balance of power and the possibility of Hewlett Packard improving their Cyrillic-alphabet user manuals. Money and power can buy access. It is not only the President of the US who holds the magic key to the gold-molding grand double doors of international decision making. If any of these candidates wanted to meet with Angela Merkel or Shinzo Abe or Hassan Rouhani, all they'd probably have to do is make a phone call, send a LinkedIn inmail, flash a wad of 100's at the door and bring a nice box of strudel or Ghiradelli chocolates, perhaps a pint of Grade A Vermont maple syrup. I mean, fer Chrissakes, Dennis Rodman partied with North Korean head dingbat Kim Jong-un. How high do people think the barrier of admission is for meeting heads of state? I bet you by next week I could get LA Kings center Anze Kopitar a high tea with David Cameron.
You might think that the President has a lot of power to do serious things- enact laws, change the public discourse and behavior, affect the economy, influence foreign affairs- with the desire to possess such influence possibly emanating from either extreme- a true, altruistic yearning to improve the world and make things "right", or a self-aggrandizing, megalomaniacal urge to throw lighting bolts around and show all those kids back in elementary school who's the king of the hill. Either way, whatever the impulse's origin, the current US President is so hemmed in by a hostile Congress, by political gridlock, by a suspicious and often paranoid general public, that he or she will have an incredibly hard time getting the most basic legislation passed, be it environmental guidelines or appointing Chief Dogcatcher.
Any Presidential comments, statements or proclamations are overshadowed by the tidal wave of vitriol from pundits, commentators, bloggers and opposition political activists. Even if the President's opinions are a no-brainer, favored by 95% of the population, he's only a human being who gets widespread press coverage and a very small modicum of extra respect. Regardless of the office holder's brilliance, persistence or passion for world improvement, what can ANYBODY do about global warming or poverty or ISIS? The President is not Superman (or woman). He or she cannot actually fly around the globe and melt terrorists with heat vision, singlehandedly repair dams and shut down coal burning plants. The world is too big, too fast-moving, too overly populated, too much in opposition to itself.
America can no longer fix the whole playground even if we all WERE on the same page. Maybe in the Teddy Roosevelt era, the President could have whipped the world into shape from Alaska to Bali, cutting down pollution, crushing totalitarian regimes and terrorists, equalizing income distribution and food and water access and so on. But today, China or Russia alone are lumbering, often obstructionist giants that we have sadly little power over.
Presidents can write widely published and purchased autobiographies. Presidents can bring huge TV ratings to daytime and late night talk shows and also participate in fun, wacky sketches on Saturday Night Live. Presidents can host other world leaders at opulent state dinners and offer them fabulously great gifts, and receive the same treatment in the world's other continents. Presidents and their first spouses can make more people think about reading books to kids, and slightly popularize diet and exercise, and make minority religions feel more comfortable and accepted when participating in a Hanukkah or Ramadan or Diwali celebration. But a US President can no longer singlehandedly steer the great ship, the USS Enterprise under Capt. Kirk, to create an exceptional, unified utopia of a nation under a singleminded vision. Nor can they exert much of that vision on the world. Instead, the current US president can have the ship steered a few degrees to the port or starboard, through choppy, hostile waters, and they can replace the deck chairs and change the galley's menu. But instead of widespread glory, whether they are far right or far left, moderate whatever, ultra-capitalist or heavily socialist, they will face raw unmitigated hatred and personal attacks as bad as any in history. Their entire personal histories will be under the microscope and open game for acts warranting outrage and utter condemnation. They will be The Devil for tens of millions of people and their personal safety requires constant vigilant protection against potential attacker foreign and domestic.
Years ago when I lived in san Francisco I ran into my old Boston area neighbor, Kara Dukakis, whose dad Michael ran for President in 1988. I told her how I had worked on the Dukakis for President campaign in Oregon years earlier, and had become a "field manager" at the Portland phone bank, supervising other phone callers for the "Duke." This was well into the Clinton administration in the mid-late 90's and I think many people, let alone Democrats, forget how much the right wing absolutely, passionately detested Bill Clinton with a white-hot, bubbling poison dart hatred that should be reserved for the aliens attacking our planet in movies like War Of The Worlds. I asked Kara how she felt, now that this other Democrat was in office, seeing the constant acid ideological and even personal attacks, not only against Bill, but against First lady Hillary and even daughter Chelsea. She said it's cool, she wouldn't want to be First Daughter, she's totally okay, even kinda glad that her dad didn't win, it's too vitriolic and mean, too unwinnable a challenge, and yes, the entire Presidential family is under such a magnifying glass for condemnation and outright judgment hatred, that it wouldn't be worth it.
God bless those who try to help save the world, but her and her sister's lives are probably better having a Dad who was just a governor and also-ran Presidential candidate, settled into a nice and continuing constructive life as a Politics university professor. She can be normal, she can escape the mass hatred in a personal way, she can go to a dark hipster bar in San Francisco's Mission District with zero bodyguards or armed agents and no one except me, from the Boston neighborhood even knowing who she really is. I agreed wholeheartedly and said yes, totally, I don't know how anyone or any family could do it. I think it must horribly suck. I told her that her dad avoided a terrible experience, despite not going in the history books to that high and lofty level.
So I give my hats off, really, and stand in some consternation and a fair amount of respect that tens of extremely high achieving, clearly book-smart and real-world and/or politically experienced people would so desperately want to occupy a position that is a guaranteed lighting rod for scapegoating over failed expectations regarding almost everything that can go wrong in the world. And all for the salary made by a really, really good electronics salesman. Don't forget, there are cities and towns in this country where the governmental apathy is so entrenched that it's hard to find multiple candidates for mayor or city council, or even school committee. So let us appreciate this surplus of eagerly participating men and women of relatively high stature, clawing and gnawing their way to get to a job that, to my estimation, would be like captaining the ship in the movie "A Perfect Storm", except without even getting to joke around the whole time with George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg. Whoever wins, may the God of your choice have mercy upon their mortal souls.