Presidential History

Just Gettin' off on Misery

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At the Purpose-Driven Debate this weekend, both major-party candidates were asked just why, exactly, they wanted to be president. Occasional reason contributor Gene Healy, unsurprisingly, was interested in their answers. The root sentences of each, starting with Barack Obama's:

I want to be president because that's the America I believe in and I feel like that American dream is slipping away.

Now John McCain's:

I want to inspire a generation of Americans to serve a cause greater than their self-interest.

The fuller quotes, while full of puffery, are also of interest, and can be found here, along with Healy's buzz-killingly originalist observation:

In the original constitutional scheme, the president wasn't supposed to be the Empath-in-Chief or a national life coach-cum-self-help guru, charged with getting us off our duffs and uniting us all behind a higher calling.  

Make sure you've read Healy's June reason cover story, "The Cult of the Presidency."

What say you, o Hit & Runnskis: Is the American dream, like Keith Richards, slipping away? Is Generation Y (and/or Z) insufficiently sacrificial, and awaiting the inspiration of a septuagenarian?

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  1. The American Dream has always been something of a cosmic joke.

    No, I don’t look to seventy-year-olds who are not my relatives to be “inspired to sacrifice”.

  2. Those quotes irritate me.

  3. Better question:

    What would have been an acceptable answer to us Reasonoids?

  4. John McCain has never gotten a paycheck from the private sector. Somehow, that’s supposed to be a qualification?

  5. Elemenope: I’d have appreciated it if one of them had just said “I like power. Suck it.” The honesty would be refreshing.

  6. McCain’s “cause greater than their self-interest” sounds suspiciously like a euphemism for military service. Of these two candidates, I prefer the ‘tax and spend spend spend!’ over ‘don’t tax and go to war’. If you only consider the economic effects, McCain’s warmongering would end up much more expensive than Obama’s social programs.

  7. Obama:
    “Internationally, we’ve got to make some big decisions not just for us for the next generation and we keep on putting it off.”

    Internationally? WTF? Hello? Looming fiscal crisis on the horizon is calling . . .

  8. I would say the prospect of either of them being elected is a sign the dream of the founders died long ago.

  9. Every society has its mythology. The American Dream is about getting rich and being able to buy stuff. In the grip of the dream, Americans buy stuff even if they can’t afford it. Irrational spending is what keeps the whole economy afloat. Now that’s a cause greater than any one moronic shopper.

  10. It’s like trying to pick between the Oprah Presidency and someone who’s ideal society is based off the movie adaptation of Starship Troopers, only with more Jesus.

  11. Reading about mass deportations, seeing articles in the New York Times that are sympathetic to nationalizing the financial industry, and knowing that I could get in serious trouble for criticizing airport security at an airport makes me feel like the America I believe in is slipping away.

  12. I don’t think things are as dire as some do, but an interesting topic might be, “Where will the American Dream relocate when it leaves the U.S.?”

  13. What would have been an acceptable answer to us Reasonoids?

    “I want to be President solely for the ability to scale back as much spending, government, and executive power as I am capable of while holding the office. I don’t want to manage people’s lives, the market, or anything but a plan to reduce the size and scope of government. That’s why I want to be President.”

    That would work for starters.

  14. How profound, Lefiti.

    I’ve always understood the American Dream to be a stable, middle-class life where ambition and desire are the driving forces in a person’s life, rather than need and circumstance.

    I doubt Mr. Obama has ever given second thought to where his money came from, let alone where his next meal was coming from.

    But to the extent that he channels the Spirit of America when he speaks, he might have a point about the ideal slipping away. Domestic economic volatility and unstable international politics-due largely to the effort of people like Mr. Obama-does indeed make the AD more difficult to attain, and more tenuous for those who have attained it.

    The only causes I have ever seen that are bigger than myself have been at the gym or at the zoo. In both cases, I just stay out of their way.

  15. I want to inspire a generation of Americans to serve a cause greater than their self-interest.

    When McCain said that, I threw up in my mouth a little.

  16. I want to be president because that’s the America I believe in and I feel like that American dream is slipping away.

    Pretty flower kittycat puffy cloud dreamy weamy babyfluff whimwham.

  17. The American Dream is about wanting a pony and voting for the guy that promises to give you one.

  18. “Let’s see . . . more interns than I could shake a stick at (not that I wouldn’t try), armed Secret Service agents wrestling anyone to the ground who so much as looks at me funny, a special button which I can press to unleash nuclear holocaust on the world, respect from foreign leaders (see previous item), a chauffeur to drive me anywhere I want to go regardless of traffic laws, the U.S. Marine Corps band playing whenever I enter a room . . . arranging IRS audits for every girl who turned me down in high school . . .

    “Wait, did I just say all that out loud? I meant to say the opportunity to serve my country.”

  19. dreamy weamy

    I didn’t know the Tenth Doctor was running.

  20. From the “Cult of the Presidency” article (linked above):

    Up from the crowd popped a ponytailed social worker named Denton Walthall, who demanded to know what George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and H. Ross Perot were going to do for us.

    “The focus of my work as a domestic mediator is meeting the needs of the children that I work with?and not the wants of their parents,” Walthall said. “And I ask the three of you, how can we, as symbolically the children of the future president, expect the three of you to meet our needs, the needs in housing and in crime and you name it.”

    I’d like a president who, in addition to what Epi said, could answer this question without causing me to lose my lunch. Reducing Mr. Ponytailed Paternalist to tears wouldn’t hurt either.

  21. I want to inspire a generation of Americans to serve a cause greater than their self-interest.

    Is McCain admitting that voting for him is not in our best interest?

  22. how can we, as symbolically the children of the future president, expect the three of you to meet our needs

    Spanking.

  23. I don’t like our next president.

  24. Nothing,
    “I don’t think things are as dire as some do, but an interesting topic might be, “Where will the American Dream relocate when it leaves the U.S.?”

    I’m taking it with me when I leave. Sorry. You all got about 6 months to cash in, then I’m out the door with it.

  25. Most Americans stupidly belive that they’re going to make it, i.e., get rich. This naive belief transfers to other areas of American endeavor, e.g., American military power will prevail. A dim but growing awareness that maybe all this isn’t true is what people mean by the American dream slipping away. McCain may well convince Americans that illusion is reality and carry the day. But the illusion can’t last forever.

  26. Though many of you hate Badnarik (and the rest of us giggle at him), in 2004 he had one of the best answers:

    “I don’t want to be president. But it is the second-to-the-last option.”

  27. Is McCain admitting that voting for him is not in our best interest?

    You weren’t supposed to notice that.

  28. My American Dream* is working a job that is intellectually and creatively satisfying to me and also pays me enough ducats to live comfortably. I also would like my own artists’ studio and a nice wife. I realize this would make me one of the lucky ones.

    *Wait, WTF is “American” about this?

  29. What would have been an acceptable answer to us Reasonoids?

    “I’m not qualified for anything else.”

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