So, you want to be President of America do you?
In the run up to the American November Presidential elections it’s amusingly distracting to put the actual policies of the candidates to one side, always provided you can determine what they actually are, and take a look at some statistics.
Obama is POTUS (President of the United States) number forty-four. There have been forty- three Presidents incarnate but forty- four terms of office. Grover Cleveland managed to get himself elected for two, non-consecutive eight-year terms, possibly proving that you can in fact fool most of the people most, if not all, of the time. Since nineteen fifty-one, under the terms of the 22nd Amendment, a person can only serve two terms as POTUS. Franklin Roosevelt died early in his fourth term during the Second World War, which was undoubtedly why the 22nd Amendment was introduced. Edward the Seventh, when Prince of Wales, famously said of his mother Victoria that it was all very well having an Eternal Father in heaven but one didn’t need an Eternal Mother on earth. Possibly America sat up and took note of his comment.
Of the forty-three Presidents, four died in office of natural causes, four were assassinated and Nixon famously jumped before he was pushed. Additionally there were six assassination attempts made against incumbent presidents, Gerald Ford holding the dubious distinction of having inspired two people try to kill him on separate occasions, and one attempt was made against Teddy Roosevelt when he decided to have another shot at being president, having successfully served two terms. Oops bad taste moment, I meant when he decided to make a further attempt at the Oval office having already served two terms. This means that POTUS has an equal 9.3% of either dying of natural causes whilst in office or of being assassinated. If however we lump together assassination attempts against incumbent presidents and successful assassinations, we find that the chances of somebody trying to be the leading actor in their own version of ‘The Day of the Jackal’ is 23.24%. The assassination technology gets better with time, so the odds of success have probably increased. Not a comfortable position to be in, I would have thought. For an incumbent president, that is. If you had almost a twenty-five percent chance of your being killed in the office, would you not be tempted to change your office for one with a more tranquil view?
Of perhaps more interest in this election year is the fact that of the forty-three Presidents, ten failed to secure their second term. Of the ten, three have failed since the Second World War. It would appear that getting that coveted second term is not the shoe-in that casual observers of the show might have imagined. To play with some statistics, and we all know about statistics don’t we, it would appear that 23.25% of all presidential candidates failed to be re-elected. That doesn’t sound so bad, but let’s look at elections post World War Two.
Perhaps voters became less deferential or perhaps the World became a more volatile place, that’s open to (another) debate. There have been twelve presidential elections from nineteen forty-five until two thousand and eight. Twenty-five percent of candidates were not re-elected. That perhaps isn’t the end of the numbers game though. If you take the view that a ‘run of bad luck’ started in 1976 when the ever-unlucky Gerald Ford failed to be re-elected, there have been eight elections and the percentage chance of failing to be re-elected increases to 37.5%. The other unsuccessful incumbents were Jimmy Carter in 1980 and Bush Senior (H.W.) in 1992. Obama may well be losing some sleep, and it’s probably nothing to do with Michelle telling him he’s in, as his re-election campaign posters announce. This could be unusually subtle play on words for an American political campaign or it could be unintentional, like Romney’s campaign poster that spelled America ‘Americia’. I suppose that could have been unusually subtle as well, in which case the folks down in Langley, Virginia are probably planning some office remodeling, another round of fake vaccinations and of course they still have a chance to actually kill Castro before he dies of old age.
To round off and up this game of musical numbers, POTUS has a twenty five percent chance of experiencing an assassination attempt and just at the moment a thirty-seven percent chance of not being elected for a final term. Why do they bother?
It’s the status, stupid! It certainly isn’t the power because the American system was designed so that the holder of the executive office doesn’t in fact have that much. To be sure, he (so far) is perceived as the most powerful man in the World. After all, isn’t there somebody who trails him around with the ‘nuclear football’, you know, where all the nuclear codes are kept? Now I don’t know this for a fact but I also reckon that at least one of the secret service men has been briefed to confirm that POTUS is not actually having a ‘brain fart’ if he ever reached for it and to stop him if he is. Probably by a bullet between the eyes. So much for absolute power then. I mean if you can’t nuke a country that has really annoyed you what’s the point of it all? Doing a Bush Junior and invading somewhere allegedly because a dictator tried to kill your Dad and because your Vice President’s oil company, allegedly, is finding business a bit slack is all very well, but for real satisfaction, you need to be able to order up a bright flash without having to consult anybody. Anyway, if POTUS had any real power Bush Junior would have ‘retired’ Bill Clinton for beating his dad in an election. See what I mean, it’s just not worth it.
A smart man might take the Eisenhower approach to the presidency and improve his golf game. A really smart man might not bother at all and aim at being a Supreme Court Judge. I haven’t checked but I don’t think many have been assassinated and it’s a job for life. Failing to be re-elected does not look good on the old CV and the after-dinner speaking fees are, I am reliably informed, less for a single-term president. Nobody wants to hear what you would have done next and positively nobody likes a moaner.
Of course, presidents seem to be getting younger, or am I experiencing the same age-related shift in perception whereby all policemen seem to be on day-release from school? Assuming that presidents are getting younger, and in Obama’s case will be around his mid-fifties when he leaves office if he is re-elected, what does he do then?