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The Top Job

In Impromptus today, I have a little note on characteristics you want in a president. Recently, we had Senator Rob Portman in our offices. I asked him about running for president. He said, “That’s a hard job, you know. A really hard job.” I thought, “Well, that recognition is something you want your president to have.”

There are all sorts of ingredients that should go into a president, I say in my column. He should have a sense of humility, of course. And also a healthy streak of brashness, chutzpah. No one who ever ran for president was lacking in ego. Just think what it takes to offer yourself up! To promote yourself for the job! To campaign for it!

I once heard Rick Brookhiser quote William Herndon, who said of his law partner (Lincoln), “His ambition was a little engine that knew no rest.” When running for president in 1980, Reagan liked to say something like the following: “I don’t want to be president in order to live in the White House, or to ride around on Air Force One, or to hear ‘Hail to the Chief’ played when I enter a room. No, I want to be president in order to get certain things done. And if someone else can accomplish them, fine.”

And yet, he ran for president a lot. He ran in ’68, two years after he was elected governor; he couldn’t run in ’72, because Nixon was in the way; he ran in ’76, even though Ford was in the way; he ran in ’80; he ran in ’84; he would have run in ’88, but the Constitution was in the way. (I have this last from a source I consider unimpeachable. Surprised me.)

No, the presidency is not for wallflowers. But some modesty is an invaluable trait, along with others. To be continued . . . 

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