Monday, March 2, 2009

Quote of the Day (Thomas Jefferson, on Relinquishing the Burdens of the Presidency)

“Within a few days I retire to my family, my books and farms; and having gained the harbor myself, I shall look on my friends still buffeting the storm, with anxiety indeed, but not with envy. Never did a prisoner, released from his chains, feel such relief as I shall on shaking off the shackles of power.”—Thomas Jefferson, letter to P. S. Dupont de Nemours, March 2, 1809, two days before turning over the Presidency to his most trusted aide, Secretary of State James Madison

Barack Obama, in the supremely confident manner he’s displayed this far, fits pretty well with the way that most Presidents have approached their job in their opening days. If you want a good idea of how someone like that looks, rent The Queen from a video-rental store. Yes, it’s about British politics, but, in his puppy-dog eagerness when summoned by his monarch to assume the post of Prime Minister after the general election, Tony Blair (played by Michael Sheen) is a pretty fair stand-in for many American Presidents as well.

A good thing Obama’s relatively young, because if he’s lucky enough to be elected to a second term, the likelihood will grow that the burdens of his office will feel more and more like the prison that Thomas Jefferson described.

(The normal pattern in the early republic was for politicians to disclaim any yearning for power even as they pursued it, and before his second term Jefferson was no different. But his advocacy of the Embargo Act—meant to express American outrage with impressment of our sailors in the Napoleonic Wars, particularly by the British Navy—only succeeded in wrecking American shipping without doing much damage to any foreign power. By the end his term, the howls of execration being sent his way—particularly from New England, where the pain was felt most fiercely—made the Virginian genuinely delighted to be out of the Oval Office.)

In particular, the 20th and 21st century Presidents have aged visibly in office. Much of it stems from their awesome responsibility for sending young men into war zones.

Even the constant sniping a President takes, however, eventually wears on them. So get used to all of the carping about “socialism” from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and the conservative crowd, Mr. President; there’s going to be more—a lot more—of it. It was ever thus.

In Jefferson’s time, the Federalists said the President wanted to make the nation atheistic; now, not a few of the Republicans think you want to make us Muslims. The more things change…

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