As we head into the semi-home stretch of the presidential campaign, I keep waiting for someone to put forth these questions: Are people who want to occupy the White House mentally stable? Why would anyone in his or her right mind wish to spend four years in a war zone? Don’t these candidates read the newspapers or switch on their TV sets?
OK, before we go on, let’s look at the bright, or brighter, side.
Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby recently listed some of today’s good news. The latest FBI reports show that violent crime was down, not up, in 2015. A year ago the Ebola plague was killing thousands of West Africans; today the epidemic is only a memory, thanks to a miracle vaccine.
Fifty years ago only half the women of the world could read and write; today their literacy rate is above 93 percent.
The U.S. unemployment rate is 5 percent. And so forth. Indeed, blessings are there to be counted.
But this fact remains: the Oval Office, while the most powerful post in the world, is the hottest governmental seat anyone could dream of occupying.
It wasn’t always that way. Warren Harding and Cal Coolidge couldn’t truthfully moan, “This job is killing me.” (Harding’s death was blamed on a heart attack, but we can’t be sure, since his widow vetoed an autopsy.)
The White House turned into a pressure cooker in 1929, with the arrival of the Great Depression, followed by World War II, the nuclear age, the Cold War, the Korean War and television news, which each night allowed us to see just how screwed up and frightening life can be.
Today a partial listing of what the current and next president faces can be jotted down in alphabetical order, without half-trying: climate change, cyber-warfare, drugs (legal and illegal), gun control, immigration reform, the Mideast mess, the national debt, a possible recession, and the warfare between the White House and Congress. Feel free to toss in a few other headaches, as they occur to you.
What could possess someone to run for the U.S. presidency? One obvious answer is that most candidates know they won’t be elected. This removes them from the political bullseye, while still guaranteeing that their names will go into the history books. The grinding need to be famous is rooted deep in the bellies of most political aspirants, yea, even unto the level of city commissioner.
Another reason presidential candidates do not fear victory is that most presidents survive their tenure, and usually go on to a well-earned and prosperous later life.
Exceptions during the 20th century were Harding, FDR, JFK and Richard Nixon. Today the political scene is populated by four ex-presidents — two named Bush, plus Carter and Clinton. While old age is a threat to all of them, poverty is not.
Optimism surely must be listed as a motivation for presidential candidates. To one degree or another, these people actually believe that America’s problems can be solved to one degree or another. This noble goal is sometimes achieved, although often at extravagantly high costs.
The flip side is that as one problem is solved another one replaces it. It’s much like the daily lives you and I lead, isn’t it?
Except, of course, that it’s not. When you and I lie down to sleep each night, we don’t have the future of humankind hovering above us. We don’t have an Air Force officer in a nearby corridor, his hand cuffed to a box filled with code settings that could unleash hell.
We will not awaken to read a CIA report detailing God only knows what crimes and outrages have broken loose around the globe since midnight. And so on. You and I are lucky not to be president.
As I write this, a dozen or so candidates remain in the White House race. A year from now, one of them will be sworn in. Whatever the victor’s motives may be on that day, an enormous amount of service and sacrifice will be demanded of them. Let’s keep that in mind during the ranting and raving of the next nine months.
Bob Driver is a columnist for Tampa Bay Newspapers. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Column courtesy of Context Florida.