Why Would Anyone Want to Run for President, Anyway?

Just in case you were wondering, here’s my position on the U.S. President’s job, which is currently up for grabs: “If drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve.”

OK, I confess. I stole that line. It was originally used in 1884 by General William Tecumseh Sherman (photo below), and has been repeated (in various versions) several times since, most notably by Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 and Dick Cheney more recently (as if…).Sherman

The version I like best is Mo Udall’s. Queried by the press in 1983, the Democratic Congressman from Arizona (who had campaigned for president in 1976) said, “If nominated, I shall run to Mexico. If elected, I shall fight extradition.”

It’s amazing that the line doesn’t get used more often. Who in their right mind would want the job of American president? Yet just look at what the current crop of candidates have been willing to go through to get it!

I look at Barack Obama’s once-youthful countenance, and I can see the ravages of the long campaign he has endured, the abuse to which he has been subjected and the hostility to which he has been exposed. He smiles less, and his smile is nowhere near as radiant as it once was. And there’s John McCain, almost doddering, stuck for an answer sometimes, contradicting himself at others, obviously weary to the bone.

“Senator McCain,” asks a reporter, “what do you have to say to the fact that insurance companies cover Viagra but not birth control pills?”

McCain can think of nothing to say. He rubs his eyes, massages his jaw, bows his head… His expression seems to say, “Who is this woman and why is she tormenting me?”

And these are the winners so far. What about the losers?

Have you looked into Hillary Clinton’s eyes? Have you seen the heartbreak? Do you wonder that she can still smile and bob her head, almost but not quite, like the Hillary of old?

Do you cringe as billionaire Mitt Romney comes crawling to McCain’s side after his humiliating defeat, swallowing his pride, begging for a chance at the vice presidency?

How would you feel if you offered your service to your nation and received single-digit support?

Yet, there’s always a cavalry charge. The trumpet sounds and here comes Ralph Nader, like a Don Quixote re-run, charging at the same old windmills with the same chance of success.

And, like the voice of one crying in the wilderness, there’s Bob Barr, preaching small government, fiscal responsibility, individual freedom, his voice blowing in the wind. And up on his brave little legs once again is Dennis Kucinich, reading his articles of impeachment against George W. Bush, oblivious to the fact that no one is listening.

And when someone wins the laurel wreath – as some poor wretch will – what will the prize be?

What I see waiting for the winner is an economy in tatters, a nation stuck inextricably in not one war but two (or perhaps three), and a bitterly divided government, where old grudges take precedence over urgent challenges, where politicians are prepared, like Samson in the Bible, to pull down the temple on themselves.

Here’s how AP economic writer Martin Crutsinger assesses the situation:

The economy showed the depth of its twin problems on Tuesday, slow growth and rising inflation, as the nation wrestled with a teetering financial system, a slumping dollar and rising prices for food and fuel.

Crutsinger quoted the Labor Department as reporting that soaring costs for gasoline and food had “pushed inflation at the wholesale level up by a bigger-than-expected 1.8 percent in June, leaving inflation rising over the past year at the fastest pace in more than a quarter-century. Over the past 12 months, wholesale prices are up 9.2 percent, the largest year-over-year surge since June 1981, another period when soaring energy costs were giving the country inflation pains.”

Did you need the Labor Department to tell you that? I didn’t. I can tell the Labor Department a thing or two about rising prices. Evaporated milk (the store brand) used to be about 60 cents a can at my local grocery; it’s now over a dollar. The cheapest kitty litter used to be something like 90 cents a bag; it’s now $1.63. And do I need to mention gas?

These problems are not unique to America. Things are a lot worse in many other countries, especially in the poorest ones. And who will the world be looking to for solutions? Why, the president of the USA, of course.

And, as for me, I can see no solutions – no immediate ones, anyway.