Letter from the Editor

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Being president may not be so hot

What kid hasn't at some time dreamed of growing up to be president? Hillary has. Arnold has - look for them coming to a campaign near you in 2008.

Okay, so not every kid wanted to be president. A few I recall really wanted to be Hugh Hefner, or the new drummer for KC and the Sunshine Band, and one, strangely, Uncle Jesse from the Dukes of Hazard.

I wanted to be a beach bum. Still working on it, too.

But our parents, at least, dreamed of us growing up to be president. They were the generation of John F. Kennedy and the idealistic Camelot. There was nothing more American or nobly patriotic than aspiring to be the president of your country.

For a kid, what's not to like in this job? As the most powerful leader in the world, life should be pretty sweet. A nice pad - better than MTV 'Cribs' even. Your own helicopter. Free cable TV. World Series box seats. Interns at your every call - um, no, scratch that one, kids.

You should be able to do whatever you want, whenever you want if you grow up to be president, and you might even stay up past 10 p.m. on a weeknight sometime, if you parents say its okay.

But honestly, the more I look at George W. Bush, the more I think I wouldn't wish that job on my kids.

You can make a better living being a third-rate rapper or a second-string major league utility shortstop, or possibly a very, very good plumber. There are coaches at Iowa and Iowa State who make out better than the guy in the White House does.

Is it just me, or does Dubyah not look so happy? His eyes are always scrunched up, like his stomach is hurting him a little.

And why not? Today's society isn't much geared toward respect - for anybody - and wide-eyed trust went away with Watergate. Polls rule a president's life.

He's fair game for every late-night TV host or cartoonist - not just his work, but his life turned into a cheap gag. Bush's political adversaries paint him to be a giggling idiot, maybe a payback for his predecessor being smeared as a sex-crazed bumpkin.

I don't think idiots make it to the White House.

The first time I met Mr. Bush, he was standing on a bench outside the hog barn at a local county fair, being peppered with questions about the farm economy that he had absolutely no inkling of an answer for. I remember that he looked small just then, overwhelmed. When you're president, you can't say you aren't sure, even when you aren't.

Last weekend, I turned on CNN to find a big expose on how Bush lied us into a needless war with Iraq. Bush was too radical right, they said. An hour later, I flipped back and there was an equally big fuss about not finishing the job in Iraq, and the president was too radical left. The guy just can't win, unless he decides to throw everyone a curve and invade France.

The other day, I was reading an interview with Mr. Bush that turned to his love of running. As a guy who likes to plod the path from time to time, I was interested.

Now, George W. puts me to shame, having put in four miles a day at sub-seven-minute pace for years, and having respectably run some honest-to-goodness marathons. I can imagine, with the weight of the world literally on his shoulders, that it would be a grand relief to get away from shaking hands and holding meetings and making speeches and answering reporters' questions to run now and then, by himself, just run.

In the interview, Mr. Bush looked wistfully out a window, and remarked how the mall in D.C. would be a marvelous place for a run. It was obvious he longed to do it. But he can't, he admitted. Security will not permit it. No friendly weekend10K races possible any more, either. It's likely he will never be able to run quietly, alone on a path of his whim, ever again.

Instead, Mr. Bush jogs sad little circles around the Rose Garden, surrounded by armed guards, day after day, like an inmate in a prison exercise yard.

All the power in the world, but not enough clout to go for a run. No wonder they say that a president ages four years for every one spent in office.

The Camelot our parents believed in is make believe, and the power comes with a price. I honestly don't think I'd want the George W. Bush reality for my children, or for them to give away the innocence that it takes today to get that far in politics.

They might never be famous or powerful, but they can always at least lace up the sneakers when they feel like it, and that makes them more free than the leader of the free world could ever be.