The U.S. Presidency was the subject of a forum in Hartford over the weekend. Historian Joseph Ellis, Bush/Cheney strategist Matthew Dowd, and Elizabeth Edwards weighed in on the potential, and toll, of serving.
Matthew Dowd was the chief strategist of the Bush/Cheney reelection campaign in 2004. He says if he had it to do over, he would not take that job.
Dowd publicly broke with Bush last year, and now supports Barack Obama for president. But he told the crowd he doesn't think Bush is the problem. More, it's the people around him, though he declined to name names.
"Leaders have angels of good and bad within them, and the people they bring around them can appeal to either the angel of good, or the angel of bad, because every human being has those."
"That was completely transparent just so you know."
That was Elizabeth Edwards, wife of two-time presidential candidate John Edwards. She said it takes a measure of vanity for any candidate to launch a presidential campaign.
"The political process does change people. It's really hard to imagine crowds like this of people who are clamoring to see you, and you see lots of pictures of candidates of every political stripe throwing themselves into crowds of adoring people. That's got to be a changing experience for most human beings, so if they weren't crazy going in, they're crazy going out."
While her husband John was campaigning, Edwards found her out herbreast cancer had returned, and that her husband had had an affair witha staffer. Elizabeth Edwards said the trick to handling the pressure is to try to keep all the attention in perspective.
"You have to remember you're a vessel, a completely exchangeablevessel. They made be photographing you for Vogue today, but they'regoing photographing somebody else for Vogue tomorrow. But if you justthink that the important thing you're doing is not that, but theimportant thing you're doing is having this conversation, and trying tomove people."
It has not always been this way. Historian Joseph Ellis said the founding presidents he studies would find the modern campaign rigors unseemly and incompatible with the qualities needed to govern.
"The earliest presidents who are the most prominent of the founders -Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison - none of them would have run forpresident in a modern political context. They would have regarded it asdemeaning and essentially an act of prostitution."
Ellis said America was more than a hundred years old before candidatesbegan campaigning on their own behalf. That didn't happen until theturn of the twentieth century with Theodore Roosevelt.
The Connecticut Forum hosted the conversation on the presidency, and it was sponsored in part by Connecticut Public Broadcasting.