Why would anyone want to be president?

By Roland Merullo, International Herald Tribune, November 14, 2008

New York, USA -- Here at the American Institute of Mentality, we tackled the most intriguing question raised by this election: Why on earth would anyone run for president of the United States?

After preliminary analysis, we concluded that only two types of people would be drawn - because of their psychological, or, if you will, spiritual makeup - to this exhausting endeavor. Type 1: Saints - or, to use a Buddhist term, bodhisattvas - that is, those egoless souls who want to serve as president in order to actually help the American people. Type 2: Pathological narcissists.

Our team, which consisted of a monsignor from Hanover, New Hampshire, a rabbi from Salt Lake City, three Tibetan rinpoches, and two of my sisters-in-law (both therapists in New Jersey), analyzed thousands of hours of tapes from candidate appearances, and thousands of documents.

To meet the definition of bodhisattva/saint, we concluded that one must (a) demonstrate either a regular communion with God (Judeo-Christian) or an ability to answer baffling koans (Zen Buddhist); (b) spend a great deal of time in selfless work; (c) be different from most people.

To meet the definition of pathological narcissist, one must: (a) demonstrate a sickening disregard for the concerns of others; (b) worry a great deal about physical appearance; (c) require constant adulation.

It seemed, at first, that we would be unable to reach consensus. The variables were too numerous, the candidates' behavior inconsistent. We decided to refine our methodology and join the candidates on the stump. Thus, our work for the past several months has consisted of listening to the same speeches over and over again, flying countless miles, eating several breakfasts, lunches, and dinners each day, watching the candidates kiss infants and listen to eccentric characters, each of whom wanted something particular (one man in New Mexico harangued Senator Barack Obama about the increased cost of barbed wire fencing; a woman from Kentucky cornered Senator John McCain and asked, as she brought out a photo, what he would do for her grandchild, Aaron, who was not a plumber). It was an exhausting if exhilarating new reality show: Meet America Face to Face.

One result of this arduous lifestyle was that we began to suffer from what Dr. Zandrew Wile calls campaignitis monumentus, a malady marked by periods of acedia (previously known mainly to monks and cloistered nuns), an intolerance for the repetition of certain words ("change," "taxes," "America"); weight gain; tinnitus; and rectal abrasions.

We pressed on. At last, having determined that our data was of sufficient breadth and depth, we retired to a Comfort Inn near Topeka. There, we resolved not to check out until we'd ascertained the true motivation of our major candidates.

The evidence in favor of pathological narcissism was very strong. The lust for admiration, the obsession with careful grooming, the ignoring of certain domestic considerations in favor of two years of constant campaigning - very compelling!

But then, as the dark night of our souls wore on, as coffee cups accumulated like the spent dollars of the candidates' contributors, the tide began to turn. Perhaps it was simply too painful for us to reduce our future president, our national god, to the level of an anti-hero of classical mythology.

A final review of clips of adoring crowds, the miraculous multiplying of benefits where once there had been only debt and trouble, the promise of a cure for all our ills, the insistence on the capture of various Lucifer-like figures, the frequent invoking of God ... all this led us to our final conclusion, a conclusion as startling to me as it was to my associates: Both men are saints, both of them bodhisattvas. Or, at the very least, the one chosen to lead us out of the desert in the coming years will prove to be an extraordinarily holy and well-balanced human being.

Either that, my friends, or we are in real trouble.

Roland Merullo's most recent novel is the political satire "American Savior."