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What Kind of a Person Runs for President?

Updated on September 17, 2011

Who Would Ever Want that Job?

I have never even considered the idea of running for president. I am sure that about 99.9% of Americans could say the same thing. Most of us do not feel that we have the proper set of qualifications: political experience, connections to powerful people, and basic knowledge about everything happening in our country and world. Few of us can even imagine acquiring the name recognition necessary to get more than a few votes, and we have no knowledge of the process by which a person would even start a campaign.

Running for president, however, takes more than just the proper resume. It also requires certain unusual personality traits. You must have a high tolerance for criticism and abuse, being willing to subject friends and family to some of the same scrutiny that you will face. Personal charisma can also be helpful, along with an innate sense of what makes people tick on both a personal and collective level. And if you do not have a tremendous capacity for juggling a wide variety of ideas and tasks and for coping with the stress that comes from being so overwhelmed, it would be best to stick to a different career path.

But more than anything, running for president requires a big, fat ego. It takes a special kind of person to think that he or she should be the “ruler of the free world.” In some cases, this sense of bloated self-confidence may be innate to certain people. In others, it may be ingrained into them through the circumstances of their upbringing. But whatever the case, a person who embarks on a serious campaign cannot suffer from anything resembling excessive self-doubt. So if candidates have any doubts about themselves, they will need to repress these in a serious way in order to survive the brutal process necessary to reach the oval office. For if they allow these feelings to come to the surface, candidates will get eaten alive.

A big ego is not necessarily a bad thing. But taken to an extreme, a bloated ego can get people in trouble. It can keep people from listening to alternative points of view. It can blind people to their own mistakes. It can cause people to be out-of-touch with those masses who do not share their special abilities. And when combined with the bubble world that candidates and presidents are forced to inhabit, you end up with the dangerous combination of the isolated, egotistical leader. Unfortunately, to a certain degree, this may ultimately be the only kind of leader that a nation can have.

And as people with larger than average egos that live their unusual, isolated lives on global display, presidents are very concerned with their ultimate legacy. They want to be listed with the great leaders of American history and not the failures. So if things start to go wrong, presidents may be unwilling to face the fact that they are not the people or leaders that they always believed themselves to be. The tendency, therefore, it to plow ahead, insisting that your policies are correct but your presidency is being ambushed by either circumstances out of your control or by political opponents who are out to get you. And the fact that a frustrated president is at least partially correct in believing that many circumstances are out of his or her hands only makes it harder to adapt and change. If you change, after all, you are labeled either as a “flip-flopper” or an admitted failure.

So whatever your political persuasion, you should try to cut all presidents at least a little bit of slack. They are trying to perform a virtually impossible job, after all, and they control far less than many people seem to assume. But it is also important to keep in mind that presidents by and large are not normal, psychologically healthy people. They have the same human frailties as all of us, only their weaknesses, like their strengths, are likely to be more extreme than the norm. Normal people, after all, would never seek such a crazy job. As with all celebrities who live their lives on public display, I often wonder if the fame, fortune, and power are really worth it. I do not plan on ever finding out.


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