Commentary — From the March 1975 issue

When Did You Stop Wanting to Be President?

An unscientific poll of interested parties

Ronald Reagan

I never started. Now, more than ever, I believe the job must “seek the man.” Aspiration to the Presidency is the stuff of boyhood dreams for a lot of youngsters (and I hope it continues to be) , but an adult must have another perspective.

If, at a time in history, growing numbers of people express belief that a particular person holds the right set of principles to be President, events will find a way of setting themselves in motion which he must accept or pass by.

But the man who sets out to acquire the Presidency—with single-minded drive, zeal, yearning, and planning—may forget that it is the job’s symbolic inspiration for the people, not the actual power, that is important. Unfortunately, that has happened more than once in this century. The Framers of the Constitution foresaw the President as another citizen, a human being first, who also had a blend of abilities to inspire his fellow citizens to cherish liberty and an ability to understand what they wanted accomplished.

Americans like to be inspired by their Presidents. The Watergate saga diminished the inspirational quality of the job, but I have no doubt it will recover.

I am concerned, though. We need to lower our expectations for miracle-working on the part of our Presidents. Ever since FDR appeared to pull off some genuine miracles during the Depression (with delayed flaws he didn’t foresee), we have come to expect the President and the federal government to instantly solve just about any human problem that comes along.

Governments tend not to solve problems, only rearrange them, and not instantly at that. As our symbolic leader, the President is the first one to catch the wrath of those most disappointed. He should set the right example, both personally and in the conduct of his duties, but he can’t be an emperor, a philosopher-king, or a magician. The sooner we let that be known, the sooner we’ll have public confidence in the position go up again.

Ronald Reagan, former Republican Governor of California, is a member of the new Presidential commission studying the CIA’s alleged misconduct.

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October 2019