Commentary — From the March 1975 issue

When Did You Stop Wanting to Be President?

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Theodore C. Sorensen

I stopped on March 22, 1973, about 6:30 A.M. Sudden Watergate disillusionment? Fear of executive burdens in my old age? No–this was the hour my daughter Juliet was born, when my privacy became more cherished than ever.

William S. Burroughs: “I never wanted to be President. This innate decision was confirmed when I became literate and saw the President pawing babies and spouting bullshit.”

Actually, I gave up wanting to be President at the age of four, when I decided I would be a fireman instead. (I have also given up from time to time wanting to sing at the Metropolitan, pitch for the Washington Senators, and sell seashells at the seashore. )

But my experiences since age four have not caused me to want the job actively again. The qualities usually required to be a good President, I observed during my years in the White House, are not beyond the reach of any reasonably intelligent, energetic citizen experienced in public affairs. But the qualities usually required to become President–the willingness to compromise one’s privacy, preferences, and precision of commitment–are generally gained only by long and successful pursuit of the political profession.

That is not my profession, though I honor it. We should all stop begrudging the fact that only politicians are considered for the Presidency and start being grateful for their willingness to undergo that ordeal (the race, not the job).

I hope that public financing and other campaign reforms will over the years make it less of an ordeal–at least by the time Juliet or one of her brothers is thirty-five.

Theodore Sorensen, a New York attorney, was counsel to President Kennedy. His latest book is Watchmen in the Night: Presidential Accountability After Watergate (MIT Press).

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