Don't Look to Politicians for Inspiration

To the Op-Ed Editor

670 words 
Contact: Bart Frazier The Future of Freedom Foundation 
11350 Random Hills Road Suite 800 
Fairfax, VA 22030
Tel: (703) 934-6101
Fax: (703) 352-8678

The other day I heard someone lament that the current field of presidential contenders includes no one who can be looked to for inspiration. My first response was to wonder why anyone would look to that group for inspiration in the first place?

Why indeed? I'm not sure where Americans got the crazy idea that presidents were supposed to be role models or personal leaders. If you look over the Constitution, the job is pretty mundane. A president was expected to execute laws related to a list of congressional powers described by James Madison as "few and defined." A president was supposed to oversee a modest foreign policy befitting a constitutional republic, not an empire. And he was supposed to command the armed forces when fighting defensive wars. All in all, the president was the government's chief executive, not the people's leader.

Beginning with Lincoln, all this got distorted, to the point that presidents are now expected to be supermen or saviors. Their job includes policing the world, comforting us, ending poverty, abolishing hatred and prejudice, finding cures for diseases, making things affordable, creating jobs, and "growing the economy."

Lately presidents are even supposed to motivate us to strive for something "greater than ourselves," as John McCain put it when he was running for messiah, I mean president, in 2000.

I'm not surprised that presidential aspirants easily don the mantle of inspiration leader. What surprises me is that reasonable people buy it. Anyone who looks to a politician for inspiration has been neglecting some important parts of life.

Most politicians have spent their professional lives plotting to be in a position to spend other people's money in order to tell them how to live. Officeholders are judged by how many intrusive laws they've pushed through the legislative process. They get into office by creating impressions that bear little if any resemblance to the truth. Take the "serious" Democratic presidential contenders, for example. Every one of them condemns "special interests" and claims to be one of the common people. Except each is closely tied to special interests and has nothing in common with common people. Sen. John Kerry has a knack for marrying into money, and is in bed with the teachers unions, among other special interests. Sen. John Edwards was a plaintiff's lawyer, which is as much a special interest as the energy industry. He's fabulously wealthy, which sets him apart from most people in the country. Kerry and Edwards both have taken money from lobbyists, giving the lie to their claims of being uniquely virtuous in American politics. Much the same can be said of Howard Dean, whose tenure as governor of Vermont saw ample dealings with what he today damns as special interests. Can anyone really look for inspiration from these guys? From Wesley Clark, the bomber of Belgrade? From Al Sharpton, race hustler extraordinaire?

And let's not neglect President Bush. He first manipulated the American people into a war against a country that could not threaten the United States. Now he's trying to manipulate them into thinking that if there was a problem with his case for war, it was due to faulty intelligence about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. He assumes they won't go back re-read all those stories showing that the president and his closest advisers deliberately ignored information that worked against his drive for war. Some might remember that at a White House briefing last summer, a presidential aide said, amazingly, that neither Bush or national security adviser Condoleezza Rice had read the dissenting parts of the key National Intelligence Estimate regarding Saddam's alleged weapons. Anyone who thinks Bush's newly appointed commission is going to get to the bottom of things and reveal the truth to the public is dreaming.

Conveniently, the commission will be working well past election day, leaving voters in the dark until it is too late. I suggest that they do what President Bush says he had choice but doing with regard to Iraq: assume the worst.

Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va., author of Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State, and editor of The Freeman magazine.