WASHINGTON — It's hard to say what the Founding Fathers would think of the modern presidency. But there's no doubt they'd be horrified by the modern presidential campaign. In their day, no man worthy of the presidency would ever stoop to campaigning for it. George Washington was asked to serve. Decades later his successors were also expected to sit by the phone. "The Presidency is not an office to be either solicited or declined," wrote Rep. William Lowndes of South Carolina in 1821. Rutherford B. Hayes wanted to be so free of the taint of self-interest he didn't even vote for himself in the election of 1876. As late as 1916, President Woodrow Wilson called campaigning "a great interruption to the rational consideration of public questions."
Not so today. Mitt Romney has been running for president for six years. Barack Obama has arguably never stopped since he took the oath of office. Today campaigning isn't an "interruption" but a permanent condition. Indeed, if you are a successful campaigner it's expected you'll be a successful president. In 1992, after Bill Clinton beat George Bush, Dan Quayle said, "If he governs as well as he campaigned, the country will be all right." Republicans had argued Clinton's character faults disqualified him from office. Quayle was articulating the common modern view — ratified by voters — that being a gifted campaigner was the more important quality. When Barack Obama was asked about his lack of executive experience in 2008, he pointed to his successful campaign as proof he could manage the presidency. Bill Clinton testified on his behalf: "If you have any doubt about Senator Obama's ability to be the chief executive," Clinton said at one of Obama's vast rallies in October 2008, "just look at all of you. . . . He has executed this campaign."