In my presidency course I have a lecture that begins with a nuts-and-bolts description of the daily life of the president. While it is a powerful and often glamorous position, it entails living a life that not many of us would want to have: the 16 hour workdays, the grueling travel schedule, the death threats (and oppressive level of security necessary around your family), everybody constantly bitching and moaning about how terrible you are, and most of all the incredible amount of stress that accompany all of the responsibility.
For these reasons and more, it's important that we have a psychologically strong president. Even if we have to accept a president with a terrible set of beliefs and issue positions, he or she should at least have a grip on sanity. That basic ability to perceive reality correctly and respond to one's surroundings in a lucid manner is a bare minimum qualification for the office.
The mental health of presidents is definitely challenged by the job. It must be hard to deal with all of that pressure without cracking. Perhaps some of them do crack – Nixon, Buchanan, Wilson – and the consequences are felt around the world. Fortunately we have a campaign process, one that is grueling and mentally draining in its own right, to weed out some of the wannabes who are all too ready to crack under the strain of the spotlight.
Like this guy.
If you have yet to see, hear, and experience Rick Perry's speech to the Cornerstone Church in New Hampshire, you must treat yourself. Much of the speculation since the speech has centered around whether Perry is drunk, high, or possibly both during this lamentable shitshow of a performance. To me it is more likely that he has simply cracked under the strain of high expectations and a heretofore underwhelming showing.
As much of a field day as the media had in 2004 with Howard Dean's "yee-haw" moment – incontrovertible evidence of his lack of psychological fitness for the presidency, we were repeatedly told – it will be interesting to hear the mighty Beltway sages' take on Perry's rambling, incoherent, and labile performance. We were flatly reminded that no one with Mr. Dean's red-faced temper could be trusted with his finger on The Button. While I suspect that most observers already recognize that Perry's campaign is dead in the water – it's more like watching someone commit suicide than an actual campaign, anyway – I can't wait to see whether they will make excuses for this bizarre public spectacle or call him out for the unstable lightweight he appears to be.