“Why do you want to be President?”

September 1, 2009

I chuckled last week when I saw the footage of Roger Mudd asking Ted Kennedy why he wanted to be President.  The look on his face was classic.  It either meant, “hey, we agreed you weren’t supposed to ask me that” or “oh crud, I hadn’t really thought of that, I haven’t been briefed on that by my speechwriters and there’s no way I’m coming out of this one looking good.”

Then he stammered out a response very similar to responses I gave when I interviewed for a scholarship from an organization I had only heard of the morning of.  I don’t have the Kennedy name to protect me.  While he didn’t become President, he did reign in the Senate.  I didn’t get the scholarship.  I shouldn’t have.  That one worked out the way it was supposed to.

Hearing me chuckle, my wife asked how I would answer that question.  I’d say, “I don’t want to be President.”  I have a bad habit of telling the truth.  I would never make it as politician.  Telling the truth is an unfortunate disqualifier for public life.

But, then I said, here’s what I would love to hear from a candidate:

I agree with the founders of this country that protecting freedom is the purpose of government and I agree that the President’s role in protecting freedom is to provide a check and balance on the legislature and to lead the armed forces to protect our citizens from the arbitrary exercise of power from foreign powers.

If anyone wants my opinion on how to solve our other problems, I’d be happy to give it.  But, it wouldnt be my role as President to use the government’s might, which comes from the people’s willingness to be governed, to force a solution to those problems.  There’s a good reason for that.  It doesn’t work well because of the bad incentives involved.  Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

The nation is full of caring, compassionate, creative, innovating and enterprising citizens.  The great experiment of the founders to protect our freedom has resulted in the most free, most advanced and safest society in the world’s history.  That’s not an accident.  The standard of living we enjoy is a direct result of their ideals and the creativity under which our citizens have exercised their freedom.

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