RALEIGH — Every now and then, I make a mental list of how many different ways I am manifestly unsuited to run for public office.
Not exactly the typical pastime of a normal person, I grant you. But given how I have spent much of my adult life — researching and commenting about political issues — the question does regularly present itself. I remember an occasion some time ago when I read two things in sequence that brought the question back up. The first thing I read was a note from someone who knew me from television. The second thing I read was a story from USA Today, a newspaper often mistaken for television.
Because most of my correspondence comes in one of three flavors — critical, very critical, or insanely, disturbingly critical — it’s refreshing to read something appreciative. The correspondent in question was a fan of NC SPIN, the statewide talk show for which I am a panelist. The General Assembly in Raleigh is “out of control on spending,” my correspondent wrote (this was before the Republican takeover in 2010). “What bothers me is that they spend all this money on the schools and our children still can’t read.”
“I think you should run for governor,” she then stated. “I don’t care what party. I would vote for you.” By my count, then, my unannounced gubernatorial candidacy had attracted a solid two votes — both from elderly women who watch me on television. Only one of those was my mother.
Despite this unmistakable momentum, I found myself entertaining reservations. For one thing, an obvious disadvantage of running for governor is that if you win you have to, well, be governor. Though former Gov. Mike Easley often seemed intent on disproving this, it is my understanding that doing the job means hanging around with politicians and reporters. I do that already during the daytime. At least I currently have an excuse not to have to do it at night, too.
The more fundamental problem is that it is hard to imagine how someone like me could get elected. Legislators seeking higher office often get told by their consultants to expect to defend dozens or even hundreds of controversial votes that might be hard to explain in a 30-second ad or 10-second sound bite. But by my count, I have written something like 3,000 published articles so far, including newspaper columns, magazine pieces, and online commentaries. Add to that seven books and more than a thousand appearances on TV and radio talk shows, many posted and searchable online, and you have the makings of a perfect political storm.
It’s not that I don’t stand behind everything I’ve said (more or less, there was that unfortunate business back in the day about Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace being a great film). But you can’t make serious arguments about public policy without saying things that could be taken out of context to sound downright shocking.
An example came to mind when I read a USA Today piece about another proposed amendment to the Constitution that would prohibit the burning of the American flag. Whenever this issue comes up, I feel compelled to restate my position that supporters are attempting to limit their fellow Americans’ freedom of political expression as well as their property rights. If you burn a flag you own in order to protest something, I can properly consider you a nincompoop and ignore your silly protest. If you burn a flag I own, on the other hand, you are still a nincompoop but a thief and vandal to boot.
So if I’m opposed to a flag-burning amendment, does that mean I approve of flag-burning? Of course not. I’m personally opposed to all sorts of behavior that, in a free society, ought not to be illegal. I suspect it would be difficult to explain all this in a campaign setting, however. My views on a variety of other issues would similarly be vulnerable to “vicious abstraction,” as a rhetorician might say.
So there will be no candidacy. But thanks anyway, Ma’am.
John Hood is chairman of the John Locke Foundation. Follow him @JohnHoodNC.