What's a President For?

Posted: Jan 11, 2008 11:52 AM
What's a President For?

It’s time to ask the big question, the question that could determine who’s our next president and what that person will be able to accomplish in office. The question is, “What do we need a president for?”

Candidates on one side of the aisle think they’ve got the answer.

They say we need a president to feel our pain, hold our hands and give us lots of “free” stuff. “I’m well aware that New Hampshire, and America, has a lot of voters who don’t think they need a president right now,” Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton told voters before she won that state’s primary. “And that’s great, but there are more people in New Hampshire who need a president who will be your champion.”

To find out what she means by “need a president,” just look at the TV ad Clinton ran ahead of the Iowa caucuses. In it, she offers Christmas gifts, including “Universal Health Care,” “Alternative Energy,” “Middle Class Tax Breaks” and, of course, “Universal Pre-K.”

Her primary opponent John Edwards sounds many of the same notes. “We know exactly what we aspire to,” Edwards told cheering supporters after his third-place finish in New Hampshire. “Universal health care, attacking global warming and protecting the environment, ending poverty in the United States of America, standing up for the creation of American jobs.”

Then there’s Michelle Obama, wife another candidate, who told a crowd in Iowa, “I’ve felt so disconnected from my government for so long.” Well, isn’t that a good thing? Most of us interact with the government once a year -- when we write it a check in April.

The Democratic Party has come a long way from President Kennedy’s statement that Americans should “ask not what you country can do for you.” Under President Hillary Clinton or President John Edwards the government would, apparently, do just about everything.

At least Edwards had the humility at add, “It is not about me.” He admits there are other candidates in the race who could also accomplish the things he aims to. Sadly, Clinton can’t say the same thing.

By now most everyone’s seen the video of Mrs. Clinton choking up at a campaign event. But in much the same way the polls mispredicted the winner, the media missed the critical part of this story. Reporters focused on the fact that Hillary got emotional and discussed whether this helped or hurt her campaign.

But they should have focused on what Hillary got emotional about: She seems to think she’s the only person qualified for the nation’s top job. “Some of us are right and some of us are wrong. Some of us are ready and some of us are not,” she explained. “I have so many opportunities from this country. I just don’t want to see us fall backwards.” In her worldview, she’s the only person who can keep us from losing ground.

The truth is, though, dozens of people could succeed as president. That list would include many people (such as former Govs. Bill Owens and Jeb Bush and current Sen. Joe Lieberman) who aren’t even running.

Clinton also made it a point to focus on how difficult it is to run for president. “It’s not easy, it’s not easy,” she said. “I couldn’t do it if I did not passionately believe it was the right thing to do.” Now, running for president is undoubtedly strenuous compared with the level of work normally done by a sitting senator.

However, the average American can be forgiven for thinking that running for president isn’t that all that difficult, especially since there aren’t any financial consequences if one loses. Out in the real world, according to a Pew poll last year, “More than seven in ten Americans say they worry about money, either often (35 percent) or sometimes (37 percent).”

Yet the Clintons will never have money troubles. They seem to have access to their own ATM machine. Recall that, after she was elected to the Senate but before she was sworn in, Hillary accepted an $8 million book advance. Her husband has also cashed in since leaving office. As he told ABC News in 2005, his income is in “the top 1 percent.”

Washington, D.C. is a place where people routinely quit their jobs to “spend more time with the family.” Most Americans would love to do that, but cannot. In fact, it’s only possible if you’re already rich, or are able (like former Sen. Trent Lott) to cash in by becoming a lobbyist.

The next president could help everyone, not by “giving” us things, but by simplifying the tax code. Millions of Americans pay a professional to do their taxes, and even then there’s no guarantee they’re being done correctly. The tax code is so convoluted even honest people can easily make mistakes, and even tax professionals disagree about how to fill out a return. An easy-to-understand flat tax would solve those problems.

Americans need a president to worry about the big issues -- such as winning the war in Iraq and protecting us from terrorism. We don’t need a leader to redistribute wealth. Whether we get the leader we need, though, will ultimately be up to voters.