This week's edition of Time has an interesting op-ed, Why They Really Run, by Michael Kinsley. An excerpt:
There are presidential candidates for virtually every taste, yet citizens find the menu inadequate. They tell pollsters they are discontented with the selection and generally sick of politics and politicians. In part, they are just being polite. The notion that people hate politics and that politicians are all phonies is so ingrained that to tell a pollster that, yeah, politicians are O.K. and the system is not so bad would almost be a violation of democratic etiquette.Compare and contrast (from just prior to the Iowa Caucus):
Yet voters are also right to feel that something is phony about democratic politics and that it's getting worse. Even a candidate who agrees with you on all important issues and always has—no dreaded flip-flops—is forced by the conventions of politics to be disingenuous about at least one core issue: why he or she is running.
Ladies and gentlemen, they are running because they are ambitious. No, really, they are. You probably suspected as much. And yet you would abandon any candidate who dared to admit this, or at least they all believe that you would. We all are told at our high school graduations to be ambitious, then for the rest of our lives it becomes a shameful secret. Ambition can take many forms. Four decades ago, Norman Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary, created a sensation with a book called Making It that revealed how even intellectuals are ambitious. But the purest form of ambition is political ambition, because it represents a desire to rule over other people.
When you hear the presidential candidates carrying on about democracy and freedom, do you ever wonder what they would be saying if they had been born into societies with different values? What if Mitt Romney had come to adulthood in Nazi Germany? What if Hillary Clinton had gone to Moscow State University and married a promising young apparatchik? What if Barack Obama had been born in Kenya, like his father, where even now people are slaughtering one another over a crooked election? Which of them would be the courageous dissidents, risking their lives for the values they talk about freely—in every sense—on the campaign trail? And which would be playing the universal human power game under the local rules, whatever they happened to be?
Without naming names, I believe that most of them would be playing the game. What motivates most politicians, especially those running for President, is closer to your classic will-to-power than to a deep desire to reform the health-care system. Alpha males are alpha males (and alpha females, ditto): it's true among apes, and it's true among humans.
I left government and I and my family have made sacrifices to be sitting here today. I haven't had any income for a long time because I figured to be clean, you've got to cut everything off. I was doing speaking engagements and I had a contract to do a TV show. I had a contract with ABC radio...and so forth. A man would have to be a total fool to do all those things and to be leaving his family which is not a joyful thing if he didn't want to do it.Fred Thompson doesn't sound phoney to me. And he also doesn't sound like someone with an overactive will-to-power and a deep-seated need to rule over the rest of the population. I hope he can hang in long enough to overcome the media resistance to his campaign, and build momentum. He's already got a pretty good following in the blogosphere.
I am not consumed by personal ambition. I will not be devastated if I don't do it. I want the people to have the best president they can have.
When this talk first originated from people around the country both directly and through polls, liked the idea of me stepping up and of course, you always look better from a distance.
But most of those people are still there. I approached it from the standpoint of a deal. A kind of a marriage. If one side of a marriage really has to be talked into the marriage, it probably ain't going to be a good deal. But if you mutually decide it’s going to be a good thing. In this case, if you think this is a good thing for the country, then we have an opportunity to do some wonderful things together.
I'm offering myself up. I'm saying that I have the background, the capability and concern to do this and do it for the right reasons. I'm not particularly interested in running for president, but I think I'd make a good president.
Nowadays, the process has become much more important than it used to be.
I don't know that they ever asked George Washington a question like this. I don't know that they ever asked Dwight D. Eisenhower a question like this. But nowadays, it's all about fire in the belly. I'm not sure in the world we live in today it's a good thing if a president has too much fire in the belly. I approach life differently than a lot of people. People, I guess, wonder how I’ve been as successful as I've been in everything that I've done. I won two races in TN by 20 point margins in a state that bill Clinton carried twice. I've never had an acting lesson. I guess that's obvious by people who’ve watched me...
When I did it, I did it. Wasn't just a lark. Anything that's worth doing is worth doing well. But I've always been a little more laid back than most. I'm only consumed by very, very few things. Politics is not one of them. The welfare of our country and our kids and grandkids is one of them.
If people really want in their president super type-A personality, someone who has gotten up every morning and gone to bed every night and been thinking about for years how they win the presidency of the United States, someone who can look you straight in the eye and say they enjoy every minute of campaigning, I ain't that guy. So I hope I've discussed that and didn't talk you out of anything. I honestly want – I can't imagine a worse set of circumstances [than] achieving the Presidency of the United States under false pretenses. I go out of my way to be myself.