Thursday, December 06, 2007

Leadership's a bitch

This morning the New York Times ran an op-ed from Gail Collins (any relation to Phil Collins?) about how she would love to vote for a candidate who had aspired from a young age and for a long time to be President. This is in response to the clash of wills this past week between Obama and Hillary: he says: "She's been positioning herself for a presidential run for twenty years, whilst I am simply rising to my country's call," while she says: "Here's Barack's kindergarten essay entitled I Want To Become President." But Gail Collins says: Hillary shouldn't have accepted the underlying premise. It's not a bad thing to have aspired to be President; presidential ambition is good, particularly when the person is running for President.

If there was ever a time a West Wing quote was pertinent, it is now.

TOBY: [Santos is] not Presidential material.
JOSH: Why?
TOBY: Why? Because he left. He left Congress, he left Washington to go home and do small, important work. You had to haul him by the hair out of the family bed. Did you never stop to wonder if that was a good choice?
JOSH: He stepped up when presented with the opportunity.
TOBY: The man in that job shouldn’t have to be presented with anything! It’s for someone who grabs it and holds on to it, for someone who thinks the gods have conspired to bring him to this place, that destiny demands of him this service! If you don’t have that kind of drive, that hubris, how in the hell are you going to make the kind of decisions that stump every other person in this country? How in the hell are you going to hold that kind of power in your hand?!

This is actually a really stupid quote from Toby, since we learn in Seasons 2-3 that Bartlet had to be hauled by the hair by Leo, that he was "never supposed to win" and only got in the race "to give some speeches and keep [Hoynes, the frontrunner] honest." It's a shame, really, that the Season 7 writers never bothered to watch Seasons 1-4, or they might have caught that gaff.

It's also a stupid quote, though, because it's wrong. I agree with Barack. I believe in the Cincinnatus variant of leadership, which means (besides having a crappy city named after you) that the best leaders are the ones who don't want to be. Because, really, why would anyone want to be in a position of a leadership? Why would anyone want to be President? Making life-or-death choices every day, with the fate of nations on your shoulders, knowing that the split-second decisions you make could have far-reaching consequences for generations. Why would someone want that kind of responsibility?

My concern--my belief--is that anyone who wants to be President doesn't really understand the responsibility involved--particularly not if they've wanted it for a long time. Because it's an enormous responsibility, and I have a hard time imagining a rational human being who would truly understand its extent and think, "Oo, I want that!" I think there's something else at work here--ego, or insecurity, or something. In an interview with Charlie Rose Martin Sheen said that he approached the character of Bartlet with the mindset that each day of the presidency took an enormous cost out of him, and I think that's why we consider him to be the epitome of a great leader. Being President isn't about flying around on Air Force One. It's about sending men to die.

In her article Collins cites a certain President as an example of what happens when guys without any real ambition or drive become president (when there's trouble you call G.W.), but I think President Bush is actually a good example of what I'm talking about. There are many criticisms one could level against Bush, but at his core my greatest concern is that he's never really understood the nature of the responsibility that comes with the presidency. That every action he takes now--the war in Iraq, obviously, but also less-obvious things like tax cuts, global warming, health care, etc--will have enormous consequences. I read the biographies, I listen to the speeches, and I just don't feel that grasp of the gravitas. He just doesn't get it.

So I want a Cincinnatus, or a Matt Santos, or a Jed Bartlet. I want a candidate who's been thrust by circumstance into a presidential campaign, and who bears the torch not because he wants it, but because he recognizes no one else has the strength necessary to. In short, I want an Obama.


Blogger Swami Says said...

Remember how good WW was before Sorkin left... Those were the best of times. The last seasons were definitely the worst of times.

Did you like Studio 60? Also, despite my hatred for Julia Roberts, I have been looking forward to 'Charlie Wilson's War' for a long time now. Largely because of Tom Hanks but also because Sorkin wrote it.

8:42 AM  
Blogger Law Revue said...

I watched Studio 60 pretty faithfully, but in the end I didn't care for it. It was just too hard to care about the characters and the surprising self-righteousness with which they approached their job at a comedy show. I think I sent you that YouTube parody of how silly the West Wing format seemed on an SNL show.

4:02 PM  

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