Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Slate

September 28, 2012

Slate: Why we want presidents like LBJ

(Continued)

WASHINGTON —

Elections confer bulky powers on a president — the ability to make war and treaties and nominate Supreme Court justices. To gain power in the day-to-day, a president must grab it and husband it. To do this, a president must occasionally let people believe things that they know will never be true. He must sometimes embrace what he once denounced. The job requires almost constant artifice. Even when a president shows his genuine self, it is usually based on a meeting where that "authenticity" was approved and sharpened in advance. This is why Ronald Reagan asked, "How can a president not be an actor?"

Of course, if you want to win the office, you can't ever show that you are fluent in backstabbing and hypocrisy. So our presidential candidates run as outsiders, unsullied by having a phone number in the 202 area code. Herman Cain ignited a crowd by just saying, "I'm not a politician." When you have had the misfortune of serving in Congress — as John McCain and Barack Obama did — you portray yourself as a maverick. "I'm an outsider trapped on the inside. But with a single election you can set me free!"

This is distracting and unproductive. Pretending that you are not political is itself a highly political act. Voters need to stop rewarding the charade. Let's not deny the primacy of politics. We are underexamining whether they can actually perform the messy but necessary parts of the job. This may have happened with Obama. In 2008, voters thought he was a great politician. What if his only political skills are the ones that got him elected — appealing to people's romantic notion of the presidency — and have nothing to do with what it takes to actually do the job?

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