The Corner

Re: The Top Job

Jay — lovely post about the qualities one looks for in a president, particularly as regards ambition. It is amazing to think how times change, though. At the time of the Founding, and when the Founders were still alive and variously vying for the presidency, it was seen as uncouth to make it clear one hoped for public office. Thomas Jefferson was particularly good at pretending that he had no interest in public life — and may have even convinced himself — but he was as ambitious as anyone; his joyous reaction to his eventual election in 1801 certainly carried a genuine sense of relief that the stasis had been resolved peacefully and the republic was safe for a while, but I can’t help but read into it an unsubtle belief that any nation that had him at its helm was likely to prosper.

Now, we criticize candidates for not showing that they want it enough! McCain was criticized for being lackluster, as were Bob Dole and Al Gore, and Romney seems to have won himself more fans recently by fighting down low with Gingrich. (Whatever you think of Newt, one could never accuse him of being a wallflower.) This is perhaps a testament to the increased power of the presidency — we seem to want someone who can fight hard at home and abroad for his agenda and his country — and the way in which presidents have to run for election in a vast and more democratic country, but were the notoriously dutiful (and at least ostensibly reluctant) George Washington to witness the way in which politicans put themselves forward for office nowadays, I can’t help but imagine he’d wince.

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