Friday, April 13, 2007

Presidential Dignity

Peggy Noonan has written an interesting article in today's Wall Street Journal about the current crop of presidential hopefuls:

"So what's going on here? "Can't nobody here play this game?" The presidency is an august office. Why are these candidates acting so small when the job they think they deserve is so big?

Maybe it's just that people have less dignity these days, and so candidates do too. A few decades ago personal dignity became equated with stiffness and pretension. There was nothing in it for politicians anymore. (It all might have started in 1968, when Richard Nixon went on "Laugh-In" and said, "Sock it to me." But that worked because he had actual personal dignity to spoof.) Maybe we've reached the point where anyone who'd run for president is almost definitionally strange. Maybe it's that the candidates so far are just the kind of people who'd make it to the top of the greasy pole, scramblers by nature whose main talent is energy, not judgment.

But I have a different theory. I think it's that all our candidates for president have met, or know well, too many former and sitting presidents. They've seen them up close, they know them, they have seen their flaws and mess and inadequacy. Knowing a lot of former presidents, and a lot of incumbents, will give you a too mortal sense of what the presidency is.

The problem with former presidents is that knowing them keeps you from being awed by the presidency. When you haven't met them, you have a more austere and august sense of who they are, and what a president is.

Candidates on the trail today would be better off keeping as their template for the office Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln--the unattainable greats. It's no good to just be thinking, At least I'm better than Clinton, at least I'm better than Bush.

Something to reach for even if you know it will exceed your grasp. But it's good to be reaching upward, not stooping."

With candidates declaring for the presidency two years in advance can we help but come to the conclusion that anyone that seeks this office should be disqualified from holding it?

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