Over the weekend, I got to visit the Museum of American History in Washington D.C.
From the moment that I stepped into the building, I was surrounded by fascinating gadgets and accompanying facts. For instance, did you know that more people have applied for patents for mousetraps than for any other device?
I didn’t know that either until Saturday afternoon.
Aside from mousetraps, there was a wing dedicated to immigrants and the various races that make up this nation. There was a section that focused on the first ladies and their fashion sense, and still another area that reminded viewers of bygone favorites such as the Muppets and Happy Days.
But perhaps the most interesting item in that entire, expansive room was in the wing dedicated to U.S. presidents. It had quotes from George Washington, video clips of Jimmy Carter, a picture of George W. Bush in the cowboy boots he wore to one of the inaugural balls.
And those were all intriguing and fun and interesting… just not so much as the presidential podium off in the corner of one of the display rooms.
It was a simple enough object with a microphone attached and three buttons on its face, one of which indicated it would play a Regan speech if I only pushed it. (Don’t ask me what other two speeches there were to choose from, as I completely forget. I think they were liberal, which is why I paid them little attention.)
Above and slightly in front of the area were two TV screens, one with a teleprompter – No jokes, please. They’re too easy anyway – and one that projected whatever was happening behind the podium.
I stepped behind it only for a minute before I noticed the two TV screens above me, scrolling down through the words of the Reagan speech I had selected. I had expected to hear the actor-turned-president’s voice, not to be prompted to speak his words to a barely crowded room of fellow tourists.
Sadly, I’ll admit that the entirely unexpected scenario threw me off a bit and I gave up the chance to do a little bit of play acting, deferring to the shy side that I do surprisingly have every once in a while. But even as I recognized – in that short-lived flirtation with the unfamiliar – the not necessarily welcome attention the presidency inevitably receives, I also sensed something else…
I caught an infinitesimal sense of the power it also holds.
The More Power You Got, the Easier It Is to Misuse It
Yes, I recognize very well that what I stood behind was a prop in a museum, I was also under no serious delusions that I was the president of the United States and leader of the free world.
But if you’ve ever read a book and found yourself struggling along with the main character, or stared out your window at work and fantasized about being elsewhere, then you know the power of make believe.
And as I let myself consider the possibilities for even a fraction of a moment, standing there in my blue jeans and middle school-esque striped shirt, I was overwhelmed by the responsibility the real job would and does entail… and seduced by the possibilities.
Now that I’m far removed from the situation in the comfort of my own living room, I find myself pondering that feeling further.
It wasn’t just the possibility to do good that flitted through my senses as I stood there. I’m afraid to say that there was a much less altruistic feeling as well. I can’t put it into words, but I do know that it was real. And it was sinister.
And it made me realize just how carefully we need to choose our leaders. Because if little Ms. Conservative Christian can stand behind a pretend podium and still feel the enticing pull of what that kind of power has to offer, then I can only imagine what the real deal does to somebody who seeks it out with selfish motives.
Of course, we don’t need to imagine the after affects of when somebody misuses that power. We’re battling them even now and we have been ever since we began electing people with our emotions instead of our convictions.
Even now, people are planning and plotting to launch their presidential campaigns for 2012.
We must choose carefully. Because I don’t know how many more mistakes this nation can take.