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Jewish World Review Jan. 13, 2002 / 10 Shevat, 5763

Roger Simon

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Presidential run is more
of passion than of reflection | Fire in the belly and burning ambition are pretty much the same thing if you are running for president.

You have to have something deep inside that drives you forward, past all the obstacles, through the competition and into office.

There is no room for self-doubt. There is no place for the man or woman who says, "Well, I might be qualified for the highest office in the land, but, then again, it is such an awesome job, who really knows?"

That is a reasonable question, but it is not one a presidential candidate ever asks.

People often wonder what these candidates believe in. First and foremost, they believe in themselves.

Many politicians weigh the odds, examine the landscape and analyze the field before they take a risk.

Some politicians don't bother. They just run.

The most famous recent example comes from 1992, when President George H.W. Bush was so far ahead in the polls that some Democrats decided not to bother challenging him. They would wait until 1996, when the seat would be open and easier to win.

Bill Clinton never made that analysis. He did not care about Bush's poll numbers. Nor did he care about his own negatives. Clinton ran for president even after serious accusations draft-dodging and womanizing, charges that would normally derail a candidate.

But Clinton didn't care. He was like a shark that has to swim in order to breathe. Bill Clinton had to run in order to exist. He had been running for office for so long, in fact, that he had forgotten how to stop.

In the 18 years from 1974 to 1992, Bill Clinton had run for public office nine times and had lost only twice, once in his first race when he was just 28 years old and thought he wanted to be in the Congress and once for governor of Arkansas, a job he ended up getting elected to five times.

Nobody ever questioned whether he had fire in the belly.

This week, Tom Daschle, a bright and decent man, decided that he, himself, did not.

After telling friends and his staff that he was virtually sure to run for president, he changed his mind.

"After careful reflection, I've concluded that at this moment in our history, with so many important decisions to be made about our nation's future, my passion lies here in the Senate serving the people of South Dakota and fighting for working families all across America," Daschle, the minority leader of the Senate, said.

The people who run for president, the people who must run for president in order to breathe, do not have moments of "careful reflection." They can't afford them.

Daschle was elected to the U.S. House in 1978 and the Senate in 1986. He became the Democratic leader in the Senate in 1996.

Contrast that record with John Edwards of North Carolina. Edwards, a multimillionaire personal injury attorney, was elected to the Senate in 1998. It is his first public office, yet he announced last week he is ready to run for president.

This is not a man beset by self-doubt, careful reflection or wondering where his passion lies.

He is going for it. Call it fire in the belly. Call it burning ambition. Call it what you will. He doesn't care. Just as long as you end up calling him "Mr. President."

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© 2002, Creators Syndicate