The U.S. is the best country in the history of the world, Americans like to say, because here any child can grow up to become president.
But now that our 24/7 cable/Internet news culture has opened a window on how thankless a job the Presidency can be if you win — and how humiliating it is to lose — it’s more fun to explain why you’re not running for President, though God knows you’d be a great one and plenty of people want to back you.
Pitiful pay is one excuse for turning down high office. Shortly after Jimmy Carter was inaugurated in 1977, I stood beside Sid Parnes, the owner of Record World, the music magazine I worked on, when he took a call from Hamilton Jordan, Carter’s chief of staff, offering him a job in the new administration.
Sid was a wonderful man who drank way too much. One time, when a staffer came back from lunch falling-down drunk and reported he’d downed eight Bloody Marys, Sid’s only response was to ask, “How in the world did you drink all that tomato juice?”
Sid slurred a bit when he asked Ham to tell the president that, while he was flattered, he’d have to decline because, as he put it, “I make too much money.”
In 2006, Time Magazine’s Joe Klein demonstrated the power of the double negative when he titled a column, “Barack Obama Isn’t Not Running for President.” Barring catastrophe, President Obama will not not run again in 2012, so most of the not-running has been on the Republican side. (Though delusional Democrat Rod Blagojevich recently told The New Yorker — who didn’t ask! — “When I say comeback, I’m not necessarily saying I’m going to run for President. You understand that, right?”).
Two months ago, right wing talk-show host and full-time bully Sean Hannity declared he would consider a Presidential run, but only if God directs him: “I’ve never made a decision in my life without – whatever destiny God has you’ve got to fulfill it,” he mused, ungrammatically. “I’m not sure that’s my destiny.” Any bets on how and when Sean will thank his well-wishers but announce he can do more liberal-bashing by taking his name out of the running?
And last week, MSNBC host/erstwhile Republican congressman Joe Scarborough and Fox News titan Roger Ailes — neither of whom has much more of a chance than Blago to get nominated, much less elected — addressed the burning question of their possible candidacies. Ailes, after encouraging a draft-Ailes rumor, took a page from Sid’s book, quipping “I can’t take the pay cut.”
Scarborough, amidst the cable networks’ trumped-up descriptions of “rumors swirling” that he would run, told his own network, “No, I am being drafted by the Huffington Post, which is going to help me a hell of a lot in those early, conservative Republican states.” (Speaking of trumping, The Donald himself declaimed that he wouldn’t run for President in 2000, after being seen by some as the “stop (Pat) Buchanan” candidate. Buchanan, himself a cable pundit, withdrew when it became clear he had no chance of winning.)
At least those guys had a sense of humor about it. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told C-Span’s Washington Journal that he will run in 2012 only if he and his (third) wife, Callista, feel “a requirement as citizens that we run.” Translation: “I’m much more important than any office, but might consider the Presidency if duty calls. Deep down, of course, I know I could never win.” And don’t you love the “we” from a guy who beat even John Edwards in the Sleaze Sweepstakes by cheating on his first wife while she was hospitalized with cancer?
When Sid turned Ham Jordan down, he was being his honest, modest self. A decade later — after Sid had drunk himself to death — I had a different boss whose considerable talent took a back seat to his grandiosity. He told me more than once that he could get elected President of the United States but didn’t want the job.
If you’re over 35 and a natural born citizen of the United States, you need to get off the fence about whether to run for President in 2012. If the answer is no, start polishing that non-acceptance speech — C-SPAN and the commercial cable networks have lots of hours to kill.