I believe that all modern (Post-WWII) US presidents have been crazy. Insane. Bonkers. Nuts. Loopy. Etc. On what do I base this belief? Did I perform extensive analysis of discernable behavior patterns and/or gain access to private documents and records that showed demonstrable dementia? No. My belief is based on it being the only possible explanation. Allow me to elaborate.
The Short Version
A person does not become president by accident, he has to want it, and he has to think he can actually handle the job in order to survive the selection and competition processes. But a person who believes that he can compete and win the job of president, and then handle being the most powerful human on the planet, is clearly delusional. There’s a perfect word to describe the condition of a serious Presidential candidate:
Main Entry: megalomania (meg•a•lo•ma•nia)
Pronunciation: “me-g&-lO-‘mA-nE-&, -ny&
Etymology: New Latin
Date: circa 1890
1 : a mania for great or grandiose performance
2 : a delusional mental disorder that is marked by infantile feelings of personal omnipotence and grandeur
Definition courtesy of Merriam-Webster at http://www.m-w.com.
(On an unrelated note, I think it would be a hoot if a Chinese restaurant had a big promotion or contest and called it Mega Lo Mein-ia!)
Think of it this way…what would your reaction be if someone said to you: “I really want to be President of the United States, and I think I’d do a great job!”? My reaction would be, “You’re crazy!” Why would anyone want that job? Unsolvable problems, unknowable enemies, unrelenting danger (to one’s self and one’s family), incomprehensible issues, and non-stop criticism. To *want* that job, you have to either think you are truly one in 250,000,000, the one great leader who can shepherd this flock through the rocky straits of the winds of change (he mixed, metaphorically), or you have to be willing to sacrifice everything in order to get power. In either case, you are insane, in my estimation.
The Long Version
First of all, no modern president has been elected by virtue of a grass-roots movement. Sure, some have come out of nowhere (Carter, Clinton), but they still came through their party machine, and followed the cow paths laid down by countless previous candidates. And those paths lead through some pretty stinky pastures, my friend. In modern America, the Democrats and Republicans have an oligopoly (I would assert that they have a monopoly, actually) on the office of President. They control the means of production, distribution, and delivery. You don’t get to be the Democratic or Republican Presidential candidate unless you pass muster within the party. And the standards are very exacting. Notice that I didn’t say “high”, I said “exacting”.
First and foremost, you (as the candidate) must be controllable, to reduce the risk that you will harm your party. How are you made to be controllable? How does one control the most powerful person in the world? By having more power over the candidate than the candidate will over you, if elected. How do you, as a party leader, retain a power advantage over the president? By making sure he owes you, and the party, and the party’s constituents more than he can possibly ever repay. This doesn’t have to be money. It can be power, in that you gave the president the power, and you can also take it away. It can be information, such as who did what to whom when and why and for how much. Now, does this mean that all of our presidents have been lifeless marionettes, dancing the dance exactly as laid out by their handlers? No, but the powers-that-be (the *real* powers-that-be, not the ones we see on TV) retain enough power to influence things enough to keep things running smoothly (by their definition).
Secondly, in order for a politician to even appear on the radar as a possible Presidential candidate, he/she must be a master of Machiavellian machinations. Remember, *everyone* makes mistakes, and *nobody* is perfect. So, when a Presidential candidate appears to have no great flaws, this simply means that he knows how to do damage control, bury bodies (figuratively, one hopes), and spin the “facts” as if he were a Harlem Globetrotter. Let’s assume for a moment that an honest man is rising through the ranks of a major party with their eyes on the Presidency. This honest man will have friends and enemies, and will also know people who are both and neither simultaneously. Remember that there are, literally, trillions of dollars hanging in the balance. Think about the lengths to which a street punk will go to get a few hundred dollars. Now multiply that by billions and you’ll get an idea of the lengths to which those in power will go to keep and grow their power.
In order to survive and reach the Presidency, our honest man will have to fight constant battles on several fronts. The first battle will be to ignore the offers of tremendous wealth and power that come their way. He will need to ignore the fact that, simply by slightly compromising his convictions to the smallest degree, he could ensure his financial well-being, and that of his children and grandchildren. The second battle will be to fend off the ruthless attacks of his un-chivalric enemies, while not stooping to their level. The third battle will be to try to clearly identify friend from enemy. And the fourth battle will be the most difficult. Everyone has flaws and weaknesses. But a Presidential candidate can’t expose these facets, or he will be set upon by the jackals of infamy. But an honest man can’t lie about them, either. So therein lies a conundrum: how can an honest man become President in our current system? I assert that it is impossible.
So, if the reader will stipulate all of the above for the sake of argument, we are now at the point where our presidential candidate is a dishonest manipulator, willing to sacrifice principal for survival, and willing to fight dirty and bury the bodies, all while smiling for the camera. I think we can all agree that that’s a pretty fair description of how most of us picture Presidential candidates, yes? And you know what? The system is giving us exactly what we are asking it for. And while this means our Presidential candidates are not angels, why does it mean that they’re insane?
Remember that candidates do not have the presidency foisted upon them involuntarily. They seek it out, with relentless ferocity and ruthlessness, and they want it with their entire being, and they plan it decades in advance. They know the sacrifices they will have to make. They know the price their families will pay. They know that they are facing almost insurmountable odds, and that they can’t control all the factors that may one day lead them to the Presidency. And they know that as they approach the upper echelons of politics and begin to become serious Presidential candidates, the trappings of a normal life will be stripped away, and they will forever live in a glass bowl under a microscope being x-rayed, even after they have died. That their lives, and those of their families, will be in constant danger from that point forward. That hundreds, thousands, or millions of lives will hang in the balance of the decisions made in office. That the President will influence events that will cause millions, billions, or trillions of dollars to ebb and flow between interested parties, and each of those interested parties will be willing to make it interesting (if he plays along), or dangerous (if he doesn’t) for the President. That every issue has three sides…right, wrong, and politically expedient.
Remember, crazy does not equal stupid. Nor does it equal evil. I am not asserting that all modern Presidents have been stupid and/or evil, just crazy. Some have been benevolently loony (Reagan), some have completely masked their insanity (Carter), and some have dazzled us with misdirection so we don’t notice that they’ve got crazy hidden up their sleeve (Clinton). I sometimes hesitate when I think of George Bush Sr. as President, because he seemed to have done such a good job, and he and Barbara seem happy, and he didn’t even seem a little bit crazy. But then I remember that he spent years as the Director of the CIA. And then I remembered that a lot of his family’s money came about as a result of collaborating with Nazis until well after the start of WWII. This would be tantamount to collaborating with Osama bin Laden today. So, George Bush Sr. comes from a family who made their wealth, in part, by working with Nazi front companies until those company’s assets were seized by the US Government after the start of WWII, and while his family was collaborating with the Nazis, George Bush was training as a Naval Aviator in order to fight the Nazis…with whom his family had strong business ties. Well, that just sounds like the heart-warming story of a young man born to be President, doesn’t it? Nope. It sounds crazy. Search your favorite web sources for keywords George Bush Nazi Union Bank for more information.
I don’t mean to be picking on George Bush Sr., but think about the fact that, when you think of Bush Sr., you never think of the son of Nazi collaborators who played both sides of the fence for maximum gain. Think of the power it takes to make sure that information is not in the forefront of the public’s mind. Think about the fact that you never heard about it during George Bush Jr.’s presidential candidacy. Don’t you think that GWB’s opponents would have *loved* to bring up the documented government records showing the Bush family assets were seized by the US government during WWII under the ‘Collaborating with the Enemy’ act? Why is it, you think, that they didn’t use this information? Fair play? I doubt it. Fear? That sounds more like the truth. But, fear of what, exactly? Reprisal? What kind of reprisal? I don’t know. And I’m a curious fellow, but I’m not sure I want to know.
So, let’s pick on another President. How about every conspiracy theorist’s favorite President…JFK. If there was ever a President who has had every detail of their life investigated to the Nth degree, it was JFK. His family’s rise to wealth and power, his good looks and prescience about the power of TV, his promise of Camelot, his untimely assassination, and the unending controversy of the official explanation of that crime have made JFK the subject of almost constant investigation since his death.
JFK’s life has been endlessly examined and investigated, with every shred of evidence blown out of proportion and interpreted in thousands of different ways, with everyone trying to fit the pieces together to either a) understand it and/or b) make it fit their own preconceptions. But then just a few days ago, news reports came out about the physical condition of JFK while in office. How his back was so painful that he couldn’t reach across his desk and pull papers towards himself. How he couldn’t put on his own left sock and shoe. How he was on up the 12 medications a day, including anti-psychotic drugs during the Cuban missile crisis. Here’s a President who has been investigated like no other, for decades.
And then, all of a sudden, a few days ago, all of this information became public for the first time. Think about that for a moment. His dire physical and mental condition during his Presidency has been kept an airtight secret for over 40 years, and is only known now because his medical records were purposely released. Think about what else might still be unreleased and secret. Other, more important information. I’m not saying there is or isn’t more to learn. What I’m saying is that, if they could keep something as relatively minor as his physical condition secret for 40 years, think of how well they (whoever they are) would be able to keep more important things secret. That’s crazy, man.
A Fine Madness
All of the above being said, I also believe that no sane person could actually handle the job of President, nor would we want a sane person in the job. We need someone in that job who can, literally, have the weight of the world resting on their shoulders without cracking. That’s too much responsibility for one sane person. We need a megalomaniac in that job…someone with unjustifiable confidence in their own grand abilities. Someone with the ability to make command decisions impacting billions of lives without second guessing themselves nor showing any skepticism about their own decisions. The world is just too big and the issues too complex for one sane person to handle.
But we need one person as President. A committee would be paralyzed by the issues and forces involved – besides, that’s what Congress is for. We need one person to not pass the buck, to make the hard decisions, and to take their lumps. We also need to know, going in, that they are crazy, and accept it as an operating assumption. We’ll all be happier that way.