The silly, symbolic obligations of the president

One of my greatest failings as President of the United States (POTUS), would be fulfilling the symbolic obligations that have come to be the standard measurement we use to judge the men that have occupied the office since it was determined that George Washington would make for an excellent, symbolic figurehead.  I would know what matters to most of you, as POTUS, and I would attend those events, but the more events I attended, the more I would have to fight this idea I have that a lot of these events are not only symbolic in nature, but that some of them are just plain silly.  I would, of course, do my best to appear authentically empathetic to appease those of you that deem these events to be vital.  I would, however, do so with a paranoia that everyone can tell how bored I am, and everyone knows that I don’t want to be there.  As a result of this reflection, I have come to the conclusion that I am not presidential material, and although it pains me to do so, I must now, officially, withdraw my name from consideration for a 2016 run for president.

prh_01_img0007Although recent presidents have plowed through this line of distinction, the president of the United States is, constitutionally, little more than a symbolic figurehead.  The position is not as symbolic as, say, the position that the Queen of England holds in her country, but if you could get the living presidents to candidly reflect back on their experience with the importance of the symbolism of the office, they would surely tell you how the totality of it not only surprised them, but that they probably found it a bit stifling at times.

The president has the ability to set an agenda for Congressional legislators, but he does not have the constitutional power to initiate legislation, or spending bills.  The last few presidents have expanded the extent of their powers through executive orders, and the rise of what some have called the new “fourth branch” of the U.S. federal government, the administrative departments and agencies, to a point where the executive office has far more administrative power than was available to it twenty years ago.  As for this ability to set an agenda, and subsequently pressure Congress to follow it, the president must have the power to do so, and that power is based on his popularity, and that popularity is based, in part, on how he conducts himself in these silly, symbolic events in a manner most people would probably find themselves failing in.

The old quote “Don’t sweat the small stuff” does not apply to the POTUS in other words.  It’s all about the small stuff for the person that decides to run for president.  It’s all about appearing authentically empathetic in ribbon cutting ceremonies, award ceremonies, funerals, and all of the seemingly silly, small things “that no one cares about” but everyone does, because it defines the man in a manner that back office politicking cannot to a populous that has no access to such information.

Thus, when presidents fail to “sweat the small stuff” properly, it leaves some us so confused.  This is supposed to be the easy part of the job, we want to scream.  This is supposed to be the one part of the job that you were prepared for when you decided to run for office.  There are so many external factors of this job that you cannot control, and you’re failing in the one thing you can?  Didn’t you know how symbolic this job was, and if you didn’t, why didn’t your handlers tell you?  If you are going to be so bold as to lay the blame at their feet, then we’re going to ask you what was going through your head when you hired them.  We won’t truly buy that answer, depending on how much allegiance we direct towards you, because when we voted for you to sit in our most powerful position, we believed that you would handle the small stuff so deftly that we wouldn’t see you sweat.

It’s up to you, and your handlers, to find that facial expression that exudes authentic empathy.  It’s up to you to hold that “inspired” expression throughout the ceremony that hopefully gives those that answers pollsters questions, and subsequently affect the president’s approval rating, that will in turn affect your dealings with Congress, a sense of your seriousness in small matters that will foster an image of how you deal with large matters.

Another mistake I might make, while serving as POTUS, is to say that I am POTUS, and no one can tell me how to dress.  If I decide that I don’t want to wear a tie, then I’m not wearing a tie; if I don’t want to wear a flag on my lapel, for one day, then I’m not going to wear a flag; and if I shift about, during one of these important events, then I will shift about.  They make these things last for hours for the love of Saint Pete, why do I have to maintain that posture, or this pose, for hours on end, while some Congressman, from some insignificant district in Nebraska, prattles on about cattle futures.  I’m the president for criminy’s sakes.

And here’s the truly unfair aspect of the silly, small stuff in the “build ‘em up, tear ‘em down” daily life of an American president: It’s expected that you will have your best, inspired facial expression prepared for display during these events; it’s a given that you will be stand out and stand strong among the hundreds to thousands that surround you; and it will be so consistently seamless that no one will know that any effort was put forth in making it appear seamless, until we receive evidence to the contrary.  You are the most powerful man in the world, and everyone believes the mystique you have carefully manufactured for your image.  We believe, rightly or wrongly, that seamless execution of these silly, symbolic tasks is just a part of the fiber of your being, and that you simply don’t have it in you to fail in such silly, insignificant ways, until you do.  When that happens, it makes news.

I would be labeled “Not very presidential” material if I showed this degree of boredom, and if these “just silly” events began to litter my calendar, to such a degree that I began asking my people to prioritize these events that seem to happen every single day.

I would see most symbolic signs of unity, expressed by my very presence, as symbolic, and I would make the grand mistake of saying that they’re not doing anything substantial for anyone … they’re just holding hands and marching down a street.  Call me when they plan on doing something I deem substantial, and I’ll be there in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

If the meteoric rise of your life is directed to the White House, however, you’ll know how important how all this otherwise insignificant and silly stuff is, because you will have spent years studying those that occupied this office, and other offices of world leaders around the world.  You’ll know how to mimic their greatness, and learn from their mistakes, until you have devoured a whole stew of information regarding symbolic greatness before you even run for office.  When you continue to commit these silly mistakes, after all that you’ve learned, we will be left with the perception that you’re either so inept that you haven’t learned how to comport yourself in silly events, if you decide to even attend them, or that you are so arrogant that you know how significant these events are to some, but that they’ve become silly and insignificant to you.


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