An Ode to the Rare, Reluctant Would-be (or Wouldn’t-be) Officeholder:
Because he didn’t necessarily want it, Mitt Romney allegedly lacked the one qualification seen as indispensible to being president
By Ken K. Gourdin
Many have been shocked — just shocked, they’d tell you — by Governor Mitt Romney’s son Tag’s revelation of his father’s ambivalence about the presidency (indeed, his reluctance concerning it). In fact, ambivalence and reluctance actually understate the case. See, e.g., http://ww.news.yahoo.com/blogs/ticket/mitt-romney-no-desire-president-tagg-says-191236665–election.html, last accessed today.
To many, it’s incomprehensible how anyone could run for an office one might not even want. “Whew! We dodged a bullet there!” the pundit class has concluded with respect to Governor Romney’s non-election as president. “Can you imagine someone who really didn’t want the office being elected president? Why, that’d be a disaster!”
Frankly, I, too, am baffled. I don’t know what Governor Romney was thinking. Such reluctance is inconceivable when one considers the “perks” of the office. As president, whatever you do at least half the country’s inhabitants would be guaranteed to be upset at you, not to mention that they likely would be joined by a sizeable portion of the world’s inhabitants.
Economic crises, both at home and abroad, likely would dog you at every turn. Threats to both the United States’ internal security and to the security of the world as a whole constantly would hang over you. One false move and, at best, the world’s media would never let you live it down, while at worst, lives — dozens, hundreds, thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of lives —would hang in the balance.
Your time would not be your own: most of your waking moments would be scripted and scheduled down to the minutest detail. Opportunities for you to steal a private moment here or a private moment there — as well as to engage in the routine, mundane things of daily living which most of us take for granted, even if we might complain about the very mundane-ness of that routine — would be gone.
If you’re a Republican and/or a Conservative, practically no one else in public life would be your friend: they would all be waiting to pounce on your every word and action, to dissect it, and (likely) to misconstrue it, to attribute such positions and actions to motivations that you do not hold.
Indeed, not only would the most cynical of your critics attribute to you motivations that you do not (and cannot) hold, they would attribute to you motivations that you could not imagine anyone in good conscience and good faith even being capable of holding. (Witness the not-just-cynical-but-malevolent motives attributed to former President George W. Bush and his administration by the most extreme of 9/11 conspiracy theorists).
While reasonable minds can disagree about positions you hold and actions you would take in the course of governing when confronted with a particular set of circumstances, you’d have to be extraordinarily thick skinned: everything from your background, to your patriotism, to your competence would be questioned. Otherwise-seemingly-innocent moments from your past, long gone and all but forgotten, would be dredged up and psychoanalyzed.
Why would anyone not want all of that?
As a country, we used to lack a permanent political class. In former times, public service was seen less as a job than as a calling. However inadequate one might feel, he didn’t turn down the call if he felt that his community, his state, or his country might need him. If one were tapped on the shoulder and presented with an opportunity to be of service to his or her fellow citizens, one temporarily assumed the role of public servant with the idea that he or she would return to the comparative anonymity of private life after having served for a time.
Since there was no permanent political class, nobody saw the need for term limits. The very idea that one would make a career out of politics when there was land to clear, to defend from one’s enemies, to cultivate, to plant, and from which to reap a harvest, was ludicrous. That one would return to private life following one’s service was simply a given.
While the temporary nature of public service may still prevail on the local level, today — with plum political and administrative assignments seen as a fitting reward for one’s long service in various bodies and agencies — the (shocking!) idea that one will not make a career out of politics, ascending through various bodies and levels of government until one achieves some sort of pinnacle of public office, is seen far less as the exception than as the rule.
The very idea that one should be tempted in the least to pause in the midst of such an ascent (to which one doubtless has been foreordained, no less!) through various offices and levels of government to consider how well one’s capabilities might match up with any particular office now is seen as a subject of ridicule. It’s as though, above all else, not only is a certain level of hubris expected of our candidates and officeholders, in fact, it’s required. “Of course I’m equal to the demands of the office! I was born to do this, no less than a prince was born to be king! In fact, my only hope that none of the demands of the office are [Gasp!] beneath me!”
At the risk of being branded a contrarian and a malcontent, I wonder if there’s the slightest hint of a chance that the sin qua non of hubris for election to office might, even to the smallest degree, negatively impact how one performs in office (how one actually governs) once elevated to it.
Nah! Couldn’t be! Humility’s for sissies!