In all this news of Newt Gingrich the surging presidential front-runner, one thing puzzles me. This is a man who, by his own account, can make $30,000 a month by talking vaguely to people for a single hour. Why on earth would he want a job like the presidency?
By all accounts, being president is a horrible job. The American People are a terrible boss, never satisfied with anything.
If you try to do anything, people get upset. If, on the contrary, you do nothing at all, people become irate. Speak to people using prepared remarks from behind a teleprompter, and they yell at you. Speak to people without a teleprompter, babbling awkwardly, and they pelt you with shoes.
Even if you do the job spectacularly, after four years they will attempt to fire you and replace you with someone whom most of them do not like any better.
It’s a thankless task.
Everyone has the fixed idea that there is some sort of button in the Oval Office that you can press to create jobs. Your hair goes white. If you go to Ford’s Theater to watch Our American Cousin, you seldom get to see the whole play. You are no longer free to pursue former passions like adultery or slipping unnoticed into Target to buy large quantities of bakeware. People devote column inches and blog pixels to the serious contemplation of your avoirdupois. United Colors of Benetton puts up giant posters of you kissing strange foreign leaders.
And the pay is not great — just $400,000 per year, which sounds marvelous until you consider that you must be president all the time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with the exception of a week that you spend on a ranch or a vineyard (the yelling continues unabated) or a few stolen hours golfing with people with whom you agree on almost nothing and whose scoring methods you consider deeply suspect.
On an hourly rate, assuming 24 hours per day, that’s well below minimum wage. And sometimes Hillary Clinton will telephone at 3 AM, just to test your vigilance. Is it really worth it? In return, your popularity drops to levels that compare unfavorably to the IRS and the Inevitable Embrace Of Sweet Death.
Consider what Newt has going for him now. People are actually listening to him again. Meanwhile, he has a lucrative consulting business, which requires him to do little other than wander around Being Newt Gingrich, God’s Gift To Mankind, and occasionally Speaking Condescendingly To People Who Pay Him For The Privilege of Listening. Newt could do that in his sleep. He sometimes does. And he seems to have no greater passion, except possibly loving his country out of wedlock and saving money at Tiffany’s.
Why give it all up for stint in an old, oddly-shaped white house once lived in by Grover Cleveland?
They say in America any young man can become president — that is just one of the risks he takes. Why is Newt playing such a risky game? The job is well below his pay grade. He has nothing to gain, and thousands of dollars an hour to lose.