Fred Hiatt, a columnist for the Washington Post, speaks for many Washington insiders. He published an interesting column on Monday, March 15.
Hiatt thinks President Obama is unhappy in his job. “We’d slam him if he acted carefree,” Hiatt says, but Americans want their President to relish the challenge of the Oval Office. Indeed we do.
Predictably, Hiatt points to FDR and JFK as happy warriors, political leaders who reveled in being on top (and probably enjoyed as much keeping their opponents off-balance). We loved the “jaunty” demeanor of those two, he writes.
I would point to Ronald Reagan as a man who seemed not to be over-taxed by the “great burden” of the Presidency. Reagan used to joke “I know hard work never killed a man, but why take a chance?” He famously nodded off in Cabinet meetings. The media had a field day with that.
Reagan disarmed critics his humor. He said if enemy jets ever threatened to shoot down one of ours, he had left strict instructions that he was to be awakened—even if he was in a Cabinet meeting. Few of those reporters who were convinced that Reagan was lazy could have spent an hour with him clearing brush on his California ranch. Secret Service Agent John Barletta records that the President was always the last to call for a rest break or for water while putting in hard physical labor on his ranch.
But Americans are most concerned about policy outcomes. They don’t care if the President plays golf—like Taft and Ike did. Or goes sailing, like FDR and JFK did. What they expect is results.
If Reaganomics had failed, it would not have mattered how buoyant was his mood or how hardy he was in laboring on his ranch. He would have been a one-termer.
Jimmy Carter comes to mind. When he ran for President, the cartoonists all focused on his iridescent smile. His teeth—like those of Teddy Roosevelt—became his most outstanding quality. Carter’s smile dazzled—even as his hapless opponents wilted.
Once in office, however, Carter’s smile seemed to disappear. He looked more and more frazzled, more beset by crises. The cares of office seemed to take their toll early. Within a short period, Carter’s lips became his most cartoonable feature, and they were not smiling.
In his column, Hiatt zeroes in on the ticking of the lighthouse clock on the wall in the White House library. He was relating the People Magazine story about the President’s first interview of the New Year. Do Americans really want to hear the tick of that old clock, Hiatt asks.