I have to admit I’ve got a ton of sympathy for Presidential candidates. The campaign seems at times to be a two-year marathon of travel, speeches, handshaking, exhaustion, and exposure to the howling wolves of the press who are always waiting for the first little slip to pounce and devour their prey, even one so favored as Obama.
Yes, you might say the candidates all asked for it; nobody is forced to run for President. And at this point, no one can plead ignorance of the process. But still, the actual experience—like having a baby and needing to get up five times a night to feed it—is probably far more grueling in the actual doing than it appears in the prospective contemplation thereof.
So when Obama made his slip-up and overstated by a factor of 1000X how many died in the Kansas tornado, I’m inclined to say it’s amazing such errors don’t happen more often to all the candidates, given the circumstances. But his excuse—that he was tired and weary—doesn’t sit all that well with me, although I have no doubt that it’s both true and understandable.
The problem is twofold. The first is that it may indicate not only a certain lack of toughness on Obama’s part, but a willingness to offer up excuses too easily. It’s okay for a Presidential candidate (or President) to be tired, but I’m not so sure he should be so eager to excuse himself on that score. I’ve often thought that, if the campaign is a grueling marathon, it’s probably a (pardon the phrase) cakewalk compared to the actual Presidency.
Just as the Presidency is not for the shy or those tortured by ambivalence, just as it requires a certain amount of narcissism (perhaps more than is healthy in ordinary life), it also requires true grit and enormous—almost superhuman—endurance. And if the President doesn’t feel up to it all the time, he/she is supposed to shut up about it and not let others see.
No excuses, although of course Presidents make mistakes. But, as Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here” for the President—and for the Presidential candidates.
In a larger sense—and perhaps I’m overdoing the analogy here, but what the hey—Obama’s willingness to admit to exhaustion mirrors the Democrats’ willingness to admit to being so weary of Iraq that they want it to be over, and immediately. Arguments about the pros and cons of the war aside, in strategic terms the clamor for the pullout signals a lack of stamina that can only be immensely heartening to our enemies.