Monday, December 15, 2003

I was reading some of the Christmas cards and letters my parents received. Instead of a letter, one of the families sent a little questionnaire thing where each member of the family answered a dozen or so questions. Like favorite movie of the year, favorite place to be, etc.

The 14 year old of this family noted...

Scariest moment: Learning that anyone can become president in America. That's a problem.

And it struck me as a profound observation. I mean, we're taught lots of earnest pieties in school (as Ralph Nader noted, "we're taught to believe, not to think"). Most of these pieties bear little resemblance to reality. Like the way a bill becomes a law.

But it turns out that one of them, that anyone can become president, is actually true. And it makes you feel warm and fuzzy and proud. Until you realize the implications. Being president is a damned hard job. I consider myself a fairly intelligent person but I sure as hell couldn't do it. But if anyone, any ordinary joe with few qualifications, can become president, what happens when he finds out how bloody hard the job is? When he discovers that he's in over his head?

That's the irony of our fascination with "ordinary" politicians. Even patricians like Howard Dean, George W. Bush and John Kerry have to prove they can suck down a beer and shoot the breeze with Joe Sixpacks from Bangor to Cheyenne. A politician who spoke more of Beethoven than NASCAR, who watched PBS or the History Channel rather than Joe Millionaire or American Idol, they'd be dismissed as, gasp, an ELITIST!!

We venerate politicians who are ordinary people, or who at least play them on TV. Then we expect them master distinctly un-ordinary situations. Joe Sixpack may wax lyrical on the finer points of Dale Earnhardt Jr once he's sucked down a few Buds, but do you really want his finger on the nuclear trigger?

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