Occasionally, in a vintage movie, parents looked lovingly at their newborn child (always a boy) and declared, "Someday, he will be president."
Infancy probably is the right time to start thinking about such a goal, because it gives someone a chance to build a personal and professional record that can hope to stand up to the scrutiny focused on American political candidates.
The president-to-be would have to attend the right schools, go to the right church and associate with all of the right people. Their families would be the first potential source of scandal, but they also would have to have the right friends, classmates, pastors, business associates and dentist. Heaven forbid that they would associate, let alone have an ongoing relationship, with someone whose views conflicted with the message they eventually would want to take on the campaign trail.
The current presidential campaign is rife with examples of political guilt by association that are endlessly analyzed and discussed on the Internet or in the name of 24-hour television "news." McCain was hit with a "scandal" that involved a possible relationship - never proven - with a female lobbyist. Recent revelations about sexual improprieties by both the past and current New York governor, along with the release of daily schedules from the Clinton presidency spur daily reminders of the indiscretions of Hillary Clinton's husband and her own reactions to those events. Perhaps most prominent in the last week have been discussions of Barack Obama's pastor, who was taped making outlandish and incendiary statements about race in America.
Discussion of these topics and revelations shouldn't be suppressed, but how much attention do they deserve? In the high-stakes game of national politics, how much attention should be focused on the morals and character of someone who might be our president and commander-in-chief? Are we focusing on the right issues? It's a lot easier to get voters' attention with a sex scandal than to get them engaged in the complexities of national health care reform. It's easier to condemn clearly out-of-line statements by a former pastor than to focus on the more reasoned and rational discussion of racial issues undertaken by a candidate.
It is no wonder that people are so disenchanted with American politics. All someone has to do is stand up and say something ridiculous and then say they support a certain candidate, and the candidate is forced to spend time on the defensive, responding to the rhetoric.
That, of course, is part of the strategy - and it works amazingly well. If you say just about anything loud enough and long enough, at least a few people are going to believe it's true. At a conference held last year at Kansas University's Dole Institute of Politics, national political advisers and campaign strategists acknowledged that "going negative" is the best way to win votes if such efforts are properly timed in the heat of a campaign.
To some extent, what is happening in the current presidential campaign also takes place in every race for elective office, even at the state and local level. Is it any wonder so few people are willing to step up and run for public office and endure the mindless attacks and scrutiny that will focus on their lives?