As we see a range of unlikely figures insisting that they are, indeed, serious about running for president — Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, mogul/publicity hound Donald Trump — one has to wonder about their enthusiasm for a position that, if done correctly, ought to be one of massive, and perhaps wearying responsibility.
To be president means, among other things, at some point you are just about certain to write letters of condolence to parents of young men and women you ordered into harm’s way. To be president means you’ll have to choose whether to risk others’ lives, and balance how much risk you expose those in uniform against how much risk is faced by Americans everywhere.
If Japan’s crisis worsens, do you expose U.S. military personnel to radiation to save lives? Do you strike an al-Qaeda site on foreign soil if the intelligence isn’t 100 percent reliable (and it almost never is)? Do you warn the host government, and run the risk of losing the element of surprise?
How do you balance the risks of action and inaction in dealing with the Iranian nuclear program? What if there are signs our foes may retaliate against American civilians on U.S. soil? How much brinksmanship are you willing to pursue with the unpredictable and bewhildering Kim Jong-Il? Are these aspiring happy souls ready to live with the consequences?
Don’t any of these aspiring presidents find this daunting? Don’t any of them sigh with relief knowing that whatever the current problems in their life, they don’t face these dreadful choices? Even the best presidents find themselves needing to console the nation after awful tragedies and great evils – the Lockerbie bombing, 9/11, Fort Hood.
We’ve all seen how the presidency ages the men who have held that position. To be president is to face difficult decisions every day and live with the consequences. Make the wrong moves, and you’ll be remembered in history as a national failure. Sometimes you can make the right decisions and the public will hate you anyway.
Have these candidates even thought about this? The reluctance of a John Thune or Mike Pence, the hesitation of a Mitch Daniels, or the repeated exclamations of disinterest from a Chris Christie make a lot of sense, and seem healthier and more responsible than some candidates’ unbridled enthusiasm.