Commentary — From the March 1975 issue

When Did You Stop Wanting to Be President?

( 5 of 7 )

Kevin Phillips

My fascination with the Presidency goes back to age eight or nine when I memorized the names of chief executives from Washington through Truman and subjected various aunts and grandparents to the recitation. Slightly older, I bought rubbery bubble gum to get a set of brass coins with the heads of John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, et al.

Boys in those days looked up to Presidents, and probably thought about being President. But that was a long time ago. I ain’t lookin’ up any more.

Nobody’s enthusiasm wanes overnight. Ole Lyndon started the ball rolling with his surgical scar, phony rat-control bill, monogrammed underwear, and monogrammed female relations. Then Richard Nixon took over the task. I left his administration in early 1970 in displeasure with a plastic empire run by Haldeman—Ehrlichman soap salesmen. It was no fun writing critical columns in 1970 and 1971 when people were not yet ready to hear what twerps were running the White House. Now we’ve got Gerald Ford, who pops his own English muffins and focuses a different but just as painful embarrassment on the office.

The Presidency will take awhile to recover from all this, and the institution itself may be greatly changed. The whole process may be watched best from a distance.

Kevin Phillips is the author of The Emerging Republican Majority (Arlington House).


Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada


October 2019