In a recent moment of inexplicable self-assurance, I blurted out my intention to run, simultaneously, for president of the United States and prime minister of Canada. It isn’t that I think I could do a better job than either of the two people currently occupying those positions. It’s that I no longer believe anyone could. The complexity of both offices is too great, too entangled with conflicting issues and interests, so that any opinion or position is guaranteed to infuriate half the population. Success shimmers like a mirage, luring novice and veteran alike, but it remains out of reach.
As a result, election night euphoria is always followed by months of second-guessing and disappointment, then years of finger-pointing, accusations, and vague conspiracy theories. In the United States, the new president has barely finished the last dance at the Inaugural Ball when the problems start: the Attorney General has hired a babysitter with an expired green card, or the Secretary of Defense has picked a fight with the King of Norway. In Canada, the prime minister is invariably ensnared in some scandal involving an illegal exchange of money, prompting the opposition parties to express shock and outrage, as though the idea of political corruption had never occurred to them.
Worst of all, when you’re the leader of a government, people make fun of you. It isn’t so bad if you’re a ruthless dictator, because then you can smoke out the critics and hang them from a bridge. But in a democracy, they march right outside your bedroom window, carrying signs and chanting things your kids will have to hear about in school the next day. Comedians imitate the way you talk. Newspaper cartoonists draw pictures of you with big ears or thick eyebrows. Journalists pore over hours of videotape to uncover the most humiliating minute and a half they can find, then show it repeatedly on prime time television, just to make sure everyone notices what an idiot you are.
I’ve come to the inevitable conclusion that it’s impossible to make your way through the process with your reputation and dignity intact. Nevertheless, a few loyal friends have urged me to toss my hat into the ring. It was that very suggestion that told me all I needed to know.
First, I don’t wear hats. I’m not sure if I even own one. Anyway, what ring? What does that mean? Assuming I had a hat, why would I toss it into a ring, and how exactly would such an act convince voters that I would make a good candidate? Tossing your hat sounds like something a child would do. Not only is it immature, but it’s insensitive, especially given all the bareheaded people who are walking around with receding hairlines and sensitive scalps, and who may not have a hat to toss.
For this reason, and several others too embarrassing to discuss in public, I’m officially abandoning my plans to enter politics. I will, instead, continue to do whatever it is I’ve been doing. As long as nobody asks what that is, it won’t be necessary to come up with an explanation for it. Plus, I won’t have to attend Cabinet meetings and pretend I understand that complicated trade agreement we recently hammered out with Brazil — or why trade agreements require hammering at all.
And it isn’t as though I don’t have plenty of other options. In fact, I have a list of alternate professions that seem to call to me whenever I encounter someone working in them.
For example, the guy on the runway at the airport. I can’t remember what the job is called, but you’ve seen him. He’s wearing headphones and holding two colored sticks, and he’s telling the pilots where to steer their huge jumbo jets. It always reminds me of a hamster directing traffic in a stampede of elephants. And even though it appears that he’s making critical, on-the-spot decisions, there’s a really smart person sitting in the tower and talking into his ear, pointing out that a Boeing 767 has just landed and is about to collide with a UPS truck. So he waves his arms and the pilot turns the plane, and three hundred passengers think the man with the sticks is out there controlling everything. I would enjoy almost the same respect as the conductor of the symphony orchestra, and I wouldn’t have to wear a tuxedo.
Then there’s the attendant who delivers extra pillows and towels to hotel rooms. Guests are happy to see him, and he might even get a tip, just for riding an elevator and carrying some linens, which are light and soft. Compare this to the hapless room service person who has to juggle wine glasses and covered dishes of hot food, only to endure endless complaints that the avocado salad is soggy and the cheese platter looks a little skimpy.
My number-one dream career would be steamroller driver. A steamroller, in case you don’t know, is a very heavy piece of construction equipment. Its front and back wheels are giant cylinders, and it’s used to flatten newly-paved roads, as well as annoying cartoon characters. It’s also used metaphorically when a group tries to pass controversial laws, as in: “The bill was steamrolled through Congress.”
I’ve sincerely lost any desire to be either president or prime minister. But if I ever change my mind about politics, I intend to be in charge of steamrolling legislation. When opponents try to get in my way, I’ll be wearing my headphones and waving my sticks. And sooner or later, they’ll be forced to throw in the towel. Maybe I’ll bring them some fresh ones.