Would you like to be president of the United States? My guess is most would answer no. The nation's problems seem to have long overwhelmed the ability of one man or woman to influence them, let alone solve them. The polarization of our citizenry guarantees that a president starts the term with half the electorate already hating him, and a large faction in the other arms of government — the Congress and the courts — invested in his failure. Four of our last five presidents have left office disgraced or unpopular. In fact, given the nature of modern campaigns, they often enter office with upside-down favorability ratings and all their dirty laundry hanging out for all to observe.

But, of course, the office remains the highest ambition of the most ambitious. But what do the aspirants dream about doing? When they imagine themselves sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office, made from timbers of the British battleship, The resolute — what do they see themselves accomplishing? Great things?

One of the prerequisites of great leadership is difficult times. Check. The other is the willingness of the leader to to take a risk for something greater than his own political survival. No check.

As we enter the next phase of the presidential campaign, will either Mitt Romney or Barack Obama rise to the possibilities of the times? Or will both be unable to transcend the smallness of our politics and the narrowness of their ambition for mere political viability?

We can still hope.