...stress galore, life in the bubble, constant criticism
Why would anyone want to be President of the United States? At first glance, it's a crazy question. After all, think of the worldwide fame. The incredible perks. Your housing is taken care of. And what a house: 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, and 6 levels in the Residence. There are also 412 doors, 147 windows, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases, and 3 elevators. All on 18 lush acres. Pretty good security, too. You can walk to work. There are butlers, chefs, aides to respond to your every whim. Going somewhere? Cops clear the road for your driver to zip on by. There’s also a private 747, and your own helicopter – which lands in the backyard. And let’s not forget the private movie theater, which is no big deal these days, but if you want, you can invite the film’s stars to watch it with you – and they’re usually eager to oblige. There’s also a mountain getaway that’s all yours for free. The money’s OK too: a $400,000 salary, $50,000 annual expense account, $100,000 tax-free travel account and $19,000 for entertainment. Lots of people suck up to you, try to impress you and laugh at your jokes even if they’re not funny. What’s not to love?
Yet the presidency was “the four most miserable years of my life,” complained John Quincy Adams.
“No bed of roses,” James Polk observed.
And Martin Van Buren: “As to the presidency, the two happiest days of my life were those of my entrance upon the office and my surrender of it.”
It’s a common refrain. From George Washington to Barack Obama, everyone who has served as President of the United States has complained about the job. Even though they fought like the dickens to get it.
Think about it: Everything you do, everything you say is scrutinized and criticized by, well, everyone. Chances are you’re irritating half of them all the time. It’s like being behind the wheel of a car with 150 million backseat drivers complaining that you’re going the wrong way. Just about every day, someone shows up outside your house and yells at you. Once in a while they’ll flip you the bird. The whole world is watching, too. Sometimes you’ll be hung in effigy, or your image set on fire or spit upon. Thinned-skin types need not apply.
Your family is picked on too. Your wife’s clothes, her appearance, her weight, it’s all fair game. Have kids? Their love life, every up and down, the public hungers for every scrap it can get, and no matter how much is revealed, it’s never enough. Even pets get no respect. Bo, the Obama family dog, made headlines a few years ago when he pooped on the new carpeting on Air Force One.
There’s no escape. Turn on just about any news show, open any newspaper, look at any website and you’ll find yourself ravaged by vicious smears, lies and insults. Think this is a recent phenomenon? The rude, prying fourth estate goes all the way back to George Washington, who was accused of being not the father of his country but a traitor to it. Thomas Jefferson said the press (which referred to the author of the Declaration of Independence as “Mad Tom”) twisted "every act of my administration in tortured, exaggerated and indecent terms." Lincoln was portrayed as a baboon and a power hungry tyrant. Woodrow Wilson compared reporters to a pack of wolves, "waiting to tear one to pieces," and Lyndon Johnson bitterly complained “If one morning I walked on top of the water across the Potomac River, the headline that afternoon would read: ‘President Can’t Swim.’”
Some things never change.
Beyond their traditional duties – head of state, head of the executive branch of government, commander-in-chief, Presidents these days are also expected to be healer-in-chief, the national consoler in the aftermath of a disaster. Hurricanes, tornados, shootings, fires, floods: why hasn’t the President shown up yet? How come it took (insert number) days? How come he only stayed (insert number) hours? One time, a guy in San Diego sent me a message saying that a traffic light was out, and could President Obama help?
There’s also a perception that Presidents have far more power than they actually do. Of Dwight Eisenhower, the former General elected to the presidency in 1952, his predecessor Harry Truman joked “He’ll sit there all day saying, ‘do this, do that’ and nothing will happen. Poor Ike—it won’t be a bit like the army.”
Indeed, the military is the only institution in the country that is obligated to follow presidential orders. Everyone else – Senators, Congressmen, Governors – must be stroked, seduced, persuaded. Some Presidents – like LBJ – excelled at this; others, like Jimmy Carter, did not.
Why does a President need to stroke, seduce and persuade? Doesn’t he run the government? No, he runs just 1/3 of it. Congress – comprised of 435 Representatives and 100 Senators – each with their own agenda and constituency to please, is one third and the Supreme Court – whose nine members, who serve for life if they wish and were probably put there by prior presidents – are answerable to no one.
You’re always “on.” In public, you’re constantly photographed. Unpleasant questions are shouted at you. In private, there are those 3:00 a.m. phone calls with bad news from all corners of the globe. Life and death decisions have to be made, often instantly, and ultimately alone. Only the toughest decisions land on the President’s desk; easier choices are made at a lower level. If a tough presidential decision works out, everyone tries to take credit: “Victory has a thousand fathers,” John F. Kennedy noted. But if it doesn’t? “Defeat is an orphan.”
Just like you need downtime from your job, Presidents need a break too. They are human, after all. But unlike you, a trip to, say, a beach resort or ranch is accompanied by a huge contingent of aides, and the always suffocating layers of security. It’s not really a vacation. Just ask Nancy Reagan. “Presidents don’t get vacations,” she observed, “they get a change of scenery. The job goes with you.” It does indeed.
Who would want to deal with all that? I can think of only one reason to be President: so I could one day be an ex-President. Now that’s a dream job.
...stuff you may not know
On this Presidents Day...some things you may not know about the 43 men who have led our nation:
- Five presidents never held elected office before winning the White House: Taylor, Grant, Taft, Hoover and Eisenhower
- Virginia has produced the most presidents, 8; Ohio is next with 7.
- Eight presidents died in office; four of them - Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley and Kennedy - were assassinated.
- Only one president never married (Buchanan). Only one was ever divorced (Reagan). Six had no children.
- For two years, the United States had a President and Vice-President who were not elected by the American people (Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller).
- In addition to Al Gore in 2000, several candidates won the popular vote on election day but lost the presidency. Andrew Jackson lost to John Quincy Adams in 1824; Samuel J. Tilden lost to Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876; Grover Cleveland lost to Benjamin Harrison in 1888 - and, most recently, Gore, who lost to George W. Bush.
More trivia later. -Paul Brandus
...stuff you might not know
Presidents Day trivia...Round Two. Did you know:
- Eight Presidents were left handed.
- Fourteen Presidents were previously Vice-Presidents.
- Youngest President: Theodore Roosevelt, 42.
- Youngest elected President: Kennedy, 43.
- Oldest President elected? Reagan, 69.
- Most common Presidential religion? Episcopalian.
- Tallest President? Lincoln and Lyndon Johnson, 6'4".
- Shortest President? Madison, 5'4".
- Eighteen Presidents never served in Congress, including many recent ones: Eisenhower, Carter, Reagan, Clinton, George W. Bush.
- Nine presidents never attended college.
- The college that has produced the most Presidents? Harvard.
- Eight presidents weren't born in the U.S. and weren't born as American citizens.
- Most common profession prior to becoming President? Twenty-six were lawyers.
- Twelve presidents were generals.
Historic 1965 bill signed by LBJ
Frank “Butch” Ellis Jr. was sitting in his law office a half-hour’s drive from Birmingham, Ala., about three years ago when Edward Blum, an investment banker turned conservative legal activist, called him to discuss the Voting Rights Act. Although the two had never met, they quickly bonded over a common grievance.
Blum specifically wanted to discuss a provision in the landmark civil rights law requiring localities with a history of racial discrimination to obtain U.S. Justice Department permission to make any changes to their election procedures. Ellis, during nearly a half-century practicing law in Shelby County, had watched municipal clients jump through procedural hoops to gain “preclearance” from Washington lawyers. Moving a polling place could take months, for example, and require a voluminous paper trail.
When Blum suggested that Shelby County officials, with Blum’s financial support, someday might challenge the provision in court, Ellis agreed. “We knew the only way to attack it was in the courts, in Washington,” Ellis explained recently. “We had the desire to do it, we just couldn’t spend our taxpayers’ money on it.”
the rest of the story from our partners at Roll Call...
...ignores long-standing protocol
The Obama press office, which often ignores decades-long rules of protocol with the White House press corps, this weekend shut out the pool that tradtionally travels everywhere with the President of United States. The White House Correspondents Association, of which West Wing Reports is a member, has filed the following complaint:
Forwarding a statement from the White House Correspondents Association’s president Ed Henry, following today’s developments:
"Speaking on behalf of the White House Correspondents Association, I can say a broad cross section of our members from print, radio, online and TV have today expressed extreme frustration to me about having absolutely no access to the President of the United States this entire weekend. There is a very simple but important principle we will continue to fight for today and in the days ahead: transparency."
-Ed Henry, President, White House Correspondents Association
The White House released its own statement, from Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest:
"The press access granted by the White House today is entirely consistent with the press access offered for previous presidential golf outings. It's also consistent with the press access promised to the White House Press Corps prior to arrival in Florida on Friday evening."
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