It was a first.
Never before had Multiquack been stumped.
“Why,” I asked her, “would anyone want the job?”
“Well,” she said, “well . . . ”
Her lights dimmed. Her chip overheated. Her motherboard began to smoke. Then silence.
Multiquack is a computer. She was recommended by Uniquack, a computer imagined by James Reston, the legendary columnist for the New York Times. He consulted Uniquack when politics perplexed him.
I consulted Uniquack once, just before he retired to a warehouse near Capitol Hill. He introduced me to Multiquack, a female computer. “Everyone knows women are smarter,” Uniquack said. “She’s younger, too. She doesn’t have vacuum tubes. She uses chips. And she emails. You won’t have to come to the city of wisdom to consult her.”
So the other day I typed her URL into my laptop.
Q: Why would anyone want to be president?
A: You sound like William Murphy.
A: He’s a visiting professor of American history at the State University of New York at Oswego. He specializes in political history.
Q: Poor guy.
A: Murphy says the presidency is a terrible job.
Q: Then why would anyone run for president?
That was when Multiquack’s motherboard began to heat up.
A: I don’t know. It’s like Murphy wrote on Quora: When you’re the president, “no matter what you do, somewhere close to half the population will hate you.” Murphy is right about some other things, too. “You lose all privacy. Every aspect of your life and your family’s life and your personal history and your family history are exposed to public view.
“There is no break or rest from the job — presidents who are on ‘vacation’ are not really on vacation; they are just doing their job somewhere a little nicer than Washington, because the job follows them everywhere.”
Then there’s the matter of reputation. “No matter what, many lies will be told about you, and many people will believe those lies. The job is enormously stressful, and people who hold it seem to age very quickly.”
Q: But still a lot of people want the job.
A: There are a lot of reasons. Murphy says: “Some people are just wired to desire power, either because they want to use it to do good or solve problems, or because they want personal aggrandizement (and for many people it’s a little of both).”
Besides, “if you spend your life in politics, being elected to various lower offices, the presidency is the highest thing you can aspire to. And I think everyone, or almost everyone, who goes into politics is at least a little narcissistic; you have to believe that YOU are the best choice to lead the country. You basically have to be pretty sure that you are pretty special.
“So, for some people, these things overwhelm the obvious downsides of the job.”
Q: Multiquack, what do you think?
A: I think people are crazy. I’d rather be a computer.
The Last Laugh:
“I shall run for President. A patriotic American must do something around election time . . .”
– Mark Twain, to the New York Herald