I found Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour’s announcement yesterday that he’s not running for president surprising but not earth-shattering; I previously explained that I didn’t think Barbour could win the presidency anyway, and nothing in the interim had changed my mind.
That said, I agree with what the Cato Institute’s Roger Pilon wrote about the reason Barbour gave for staying out:
Gov. Barbour’s explanation for why he will not seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination — because a candidate today “is embracing a ten-year commitment to an all-consuming effort, to the virtual exclusion of all else,” and he cannot make such a commitment — is not only refreshingly candid but points to a much deeper problem.
We are moving inexorably not simply to news but to politics 24/7/365. And what better example than our current part-time president who, with no primary challenger in sight, is already on the campaign trail (did he ever leave it?), when the election is 19 months away. Some of us are old enough to remember when elected officials served — and ran for office or re-election only around election time.
Part of the reason for the change is the need today for vast amounts of campaign cash. But the deeper reason, I submit, is because politics has taken over so much of life. When government was more limited, and we didn’t look to it to provide our every need and want, those who “governed” didn’t feel such a need to cater to us — and we had better things to do anyway than obsess over politics. Calvin Coolidge took naps in the White House — in his pajamas! Imagine that today.
It’s not just the media scrutiny of candidates’ personal lives, although that probably still dissuade some potential candidates who may have an embarrassing episode in their or their family members’ past, even if the embarrassment isn’t relevant to how they’d perform in office. The presidency is too-large-for-life because the president is the head of a government that is simply too large. (The too-large-for-life factor also reportedly is why Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who I’d place well above Barbour on my list, has been on the fence about running.)
Not to excuse bad decisions by any president, but I have to wonder who, exactly, could perform the job as it stands today, evolved and mutated in so many ways. And let’s not overlook that President Obama and his immediate predecessor, George W. Bush, didn’t help matters with their efforts to expand the federal government and the president’s role in it.
In fact, I think the too-large-for-life presidency also reinforces the polarization of politics — which in turn further explains the “all-consuming effort,” in Barbour’s words, it takes to become and serve as president. A president invariably will disappoint or even anger his base with some of his actions. But, because he is responsible for so much, his supporters are often hesitant to object too strenuously, lest it weaken his ability to act on other policies on which he and they agree.
So, we got less self-policing of Bush by Republicans on the growth of government and spending — at least until the very end of his presidency, when the magnitude of the problem made it impossible to ignore any longer. And now we get crickets from the mostly left-wing anti-war movement when Obama extends the war in Afghanistan and launches a new one in Libya.
If we want a better president and government, we need to ask them to do less.
– By Kyle Wingfield