The sagacious editorial page of the Wall Street Journal raised this question the other day of a too-little-noticed point concerning the long-running Herman Cain affair.
The Journal addressed the much-discussed question of "why we don't have 'better candidates.'" Take a guess. "Because no normal person would risk it."
On the nose! No "normal" person, for the privilege of leading the United States of America, would subject himself, I hereby suggest, to:
-- Constant exposure to the public eye.
-- Relentless and regularly unfair criticism by opponents.
-- Minute analysis of philosophy, background, campaign strategy, family relationships, friends, personal finances, religious affiliations, birth certificates, etc.
-- Unceasing pressure to beg for money over the telephone.
-- Daily life in motels and hotels.
-- Uninterrupted conversation with people whom only care and think about politics.
-- Lack of access to normal people, save under abnormal circumstances.
But those are enough reasons, aren't they? Enough, certainly, to affirm the Journal's point with loud acclamations. Normal people don't behave this way.
"We have no idea," says the Journal editorial, "if this is why so many prominent Republicans -- Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Mitch Daniels -- decided not to run despite a vulnerable incumbent and a weak GOP field. But we understand if it were the reason."
The presidential selection process is out of whack -- as, to be sure, are many things relating to politics and government, both at the national and the state level. That the 2012 presidential campaign has gone on throughout 2011 and has another year to run, is one vital piece of the evidence. You don't need this long to pick a president. Unless, the picking of the president has become somehow the most important thing Americans do: more important than forming families, looking for work, buying homes, getting through school and college and/or saving for retirement.
Which may be the case. If indeed this is the case, it shows what really is wrong with America -- to wit, our common dependence on presidents and Congresses for satisfaction of needs and performance of duties once thought to lie generally beyond the scope of government.
No more. The federal government, with its laws and programs and mega-spending, touches everything in daily life, without exception. This is why the presidency matters even more than when Franklin Roosevelt goosed up its power to levels previously unexplored.
It is too bad -- for reasons abutting freedom, personal responsibility and, yes, the endlessness of presidential campaigns. If the president of the United States has become the most important guy in every room he inhabits, it figures that to get there -- to rule the whole American roost -- a certain kind of person puts aside scruples about constant exposure to the public eye, daily life in motels and hotels, etc. Some do so, one presumes, from love of country or sense of duty. The voter's task is sorting out which hounds these are amid the great yapping pack.
Is government too big and pervasive? It sure looks that way when you consider the excesses attendant on trying to grab government by the reins and slow the runaway horses. You get -- well -- the 2011-12 presidential campaign. You get endless polls, bumper-sticker philosophy, sound-bite debates -- and breathless stories about who did what and with whom years and years ago. The latter are the stories that actually matter, as Herman Cain has come to find out, when it comes to picking which candidate we want to run our lives for four years.
Again, is government too big and pervasive? A question of that order would seem to matter more, in the great scheme of things, than the hardly insignificant question of how Herman Cain conducted himself at the National Restaurant Association.
The endless campaign is part, and hardly the meanest part, of our long acquiescence in the government boom -- the steady, sometimes heady, handover of decisions and competencies to the control of people promising to do "more" for us.