INTRODUCTION

President of the United States. What a rotten job.

You’re the guy or gal who’s always to blame. The economy. Foreign policy. Drugs in the schools. Crime on the streets … It’s all your fault.

Throw in the official duties: commander in chief of the armed services and chief executive of the biggest, fattest, least efficient organization in the known world. You’ve got the power to nominate your good friends A, B, and C for secretary of state, Supreme Court justice, or maybe ambassador to some country called Paradíso. But you’ve got to do it without ticking off the general public, too many members of Congress, or your good friends X, Y, and Z (who thought they were going to get the jobs because that’s what you said you were going to do). You also get the power to declare war. (Sort of.) But what if you do it and in retrospect realize you were just having a bad day? And on top of all that you’ve got to decide whether you should sign or veto a bunch of bills from Congress—and every time you try to read one you fall fast asleep.

All of which causes you to wonder: Does anyone—other than your press secretary, a handful of bloggers and radio call-in talk show hosts, and a couple of other people with political futures at stake—really care about any of this stuff?

Somehow you get the sense that what the American public really expects from you, their president, is entertainment. Giant, screaming headlines full of corruption, scandal, sex, stupidity, sleaze. And presumably they want that sex, stupidity, and sleaze to be yours. After all, you’ve finally made it. You’re in the center ring. You’re president of the United States—the all-star attraction. And now it’s you everyone wants as the fall guy.

This of course means that it’s also your job to collaborate with the media to destroy your life, your reputation, your family—and your knees (a reference to tumbling, tumbling Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton, as well as to Thomas Jefferson, who once took a spill while showing off for his married girlfriend), all in an effort to entertain the American people.

Thus far, our legion of presidents has lived up to the challenge. And when there’s been nothing true to report, the media has been only too happy to help out; in the absence of truth they report on rumor, innuendo, a thread of a thread of a story heard somehow, somewhere.

Are we, the people, really this callous? Petty? Shallow? Or easily amused? Probably not.

The truth is most of us would rather have a straight-shooting, stand-up kind of president than one who’s a buffoon or a scoundrel or a cheat. In fact, what most of us really want is a president who’s a hero. Or a saint. Someone with impeccable moral values and judgment. A flawless personal history. The sort of guy or gal who has never made an enemy or, barring that, the sort who has made many—but for all the right, fight-for-what-you-believe-in reasons.

Yup. This is what we desperately crave, even though it’s a standard we ourselves could never hope to live up to. So we take what we can get, and then we act horrified when our presidents and presidential candidates do the same dirty, rotten stuff with their lives we do with ours.

And now that you’ve spent the last few moments imagining the job was yours, aren’t you relieved to remember it’s a job that actually belongs to someone else?

A COUPLE OF SMALL DISCLAIMERS

One:

Your authors, too, are members of the media. Therefore we want to fulfill our obligation to you, the reader, by entertaining you with stories about the presidents based either on the stupid, rotten stuff they’ve actually done or at least the stupid, rotten stuff of which they’ve been publically accused. However, we want to do this without creating a scandal of our own. For that reason we state up front that this work contains absolutely no groundbreaking or earth-shattering new research on the behavior of presidents past or present. Furthermore, we make absolutely no warrants toward the truth or veracity of any of the information contained in this book.

This much you can count on, however: If it appears here, regardless of how cruel, mean, baseless, or untrue it may be, someone somewhere of at least some level of legitimate journalistic credibility reported it first.

Two:

Much of what you read in this book is funny today, but it wasn’t very funny when it happened. Why not? For the same reason you’re probably not laughing about the mortgage crisis, the Savings and Loan debacle or Watergate or Contragate or Whitewater, the second Iraq war, or Benghazi. History is rarely entertaining for those who are deceived or wronged or maligned or misled or screwed in the course of the history-making process. For this reason, you’ll find many more juicy tidbits about presidents of the first hundred and seventy or so years of our history than about our past five or six commanders in chief. After all, we’re the ones who are still paying the price for their follies, and that’s no laughing matter.

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