Who in Their Right Mind Would Want to be President?

Who wants that job? (And is willing to work that hard to get it?)

I am not, by the way, asking in a tongue-in-cheek way, nor am I am actually suggesting that people who want to be POTUS have a screw loose.  Still, one does wonder at times about the psyche of people who want the job.

Consider that those who pursued the office in the 2008 cycle knew that they were getting, at a minimum:  two wars (both problematic for a variety of reasons),  the ongoing challenge of al Qaeda, the legacy of Guantanamo, the problem of Osama bin Laden alive  and on the loose, the threat of nuclear Iran, as well as the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression alongside the normal major issues and difficulties associated with being the chief executive officer of the United States of America.

And, now, since that time, the current occupant of the White House has had to deal with:

  • Persistent unemployment near 9%.
  • The BP oil spill.
  • Political turmoil in Iran over the last elections.
  • The eruption of political turmoil in North Africa and the Middle East to include the strategic lynchpin that is Egypt, bringing into play issues regarding the Suez Canal and Israel as well as the complications presented by the situation in Libya (including the question of whether, in the name of serious humanitarian concerns, a no-fly zone should be imposed.
  • Gas approaching (if not exceeding in some parts of the country) $4/gallon.
  • The earthquake in Haiti (not to mention Chile).
  • The earthquake and tsunami in Japan along with the uncertain and perilous nuclear situation.

And all of this in just over half a term in office (and I am, no doubt, forgetting something).

Who would want this job?  Especially when, no matter what one does, some substantial portion if the country will vilify what you do.

I really have nothing especially analytical to say about this at the moment.  I was just struck by all that the current occupant of the White House has on his plate at the moment (and, indeed, what any given occupant has had to deal with at any specific moment in time).

FILED UNDER: Africa, Middle East, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Dodd says:

    I don’t really trust anyone who wants an elected position higher than about city council level badly enough to do what’s required to get it. And they’re suspect. The system basically requires that one be atavistic, egomaniacal, self-absorbed, and power-hungry to run for high office.

    Every now and then one slips through who’s actually a civic-minded patriot who just wants to serve his fellows. Unfortunately, they’re hard to identify until after the system chews them up and drives them out..

  2. MstrB says:

    Worse yet, you can’t even play a round of golf without people losing their shit.

  3. Dave says:

    I know it’s tempting to look at this list and think “only an egomaniac self-deluded into believing he’s some sort of superman would ever take this job.” But that’s too cynical and often wrong.

    If you follow the early political careers of guys like Obama, Bush Sr., even Bill Clinton etc, and look at what motivated them before the glory of power and all that you often really do see a guy/gal who is genuinely interested in public service and sincerely enjoys the challenge of doing good things for people. You’re not knocking on doors as a community organizer in Southside Chicago because you love free golf and a bunch of idiot college kids pissing their pants over your awesomeness.

    The power tends to corrupt them all eventually, and the challenge makes them a little crazy, but they get to these positions because they want to help people.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    I’d like to second Dave.

    People have strange motives, and motives are always mixed. There’s no contradiction in being idealistic and cynical. People are complicated. People are not black and white, yes/no, binary.

  5. There’s no contradiction in being idealistic and cynical.

    That’s because they’re not antonyms. The opposite of idealism is pragmatism, and the opposite of cynicism is romanticism.

  6. G.A.the Friendly Troll says:

    Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.
    Albert Einstein

  7. Kylopod says:

    It’s interesting to me how rare it is to get a president with actual mental problems. That’s why Nixon stands out. I suppose no one today with real mental issues (I’m not talking about mere “crazy” ideas) could get through the screening process it takes to reach the presidency. I still have vivid memories of the ’92 election when I was 15, and I watched Perot’s final press conference before he (temporarily) dropped out of the race, and it looked to me like he was having a nervous breakdown right on camera. I understood instantly that one of the most basic requirements for the presidency is that you can withstand the pressure without cracking up. Most of our presidents, good or bad, have met this requirement, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t be a sight to behold if we actually did manage to elect a lunatic.

  8. Gerry W. says:

    Tony Blair, on his television rounds, mentioned that Bush was later on disinterested in the problems on Iraq and other areas. And it showed in his economics as he said “stay the course” and was too ignorant and arrogant to recognize our problems. I think this is different than “change we can believe in” by Obama which is more political. And Bush was quoted to say that he “believed in a Higher Authority”, instead of conferring with his father and others on Iraq. A right wing religious nut is what we don’t need. It is why, sitting in front of the TV, I had waited for years to see something get done and nothing got done at all. The war in Iraq got worse, Afghanistan was neglected for some five years, and our economic and infrastructural problems were ignored.

  9. Wayne says:

    There is a great deal of prestige in being President. The money is not bad especially afterwards with the book and speech deals. Campaigns cost a great deal of money but it is usually other people’s money. Money that benefits friends and family members of the politician.

    Where would most of the Presidents have been if they didn’t become President? Some were famous like Washington and Jackson. Clinton and Bush would have been nobodies except as some obscured former Governor.

    Yes it is hard to get there and a tough job at any time period but it definitely has its benefits.

  10. michael reynolds says:

    Reagan might have gotten the Indiana Jones role if he hadn’t been president.

  11. Rob in CT says:

    People with massive egos want the job, obviously. Which is part of our problem.

    Sure, at least some of the people who end up running for high office probably started out as altruistic public servants. But running for POTUS is something else. You pretty much have to be arrogant as hell to do it. You have to honestly believe you would be good at it, right?

  12. Poor Obama.

    Maybe being president of China is easier.

  13. I’m also reminded of Bill Clinton regretting that nothing happened that gave him the opportunity to be great. Now what kind of ego does that require?