Small World: The Allure of Power

Henry Precht

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

Do you ever wonder what happens to the personalities of people who are elected to high office? They might start out as one of us, but quickly are transformed into superior beings, laws unto themselves. It’s not a Left-Right, East-West or developed-undeveloped thing. Men and, I suppose, women — although they make fewer headlines — from all walks, from all over, become infected with the virus that power breeds.

First, let’s address sexual strayings. No better place to start on that theme than France where the public tends to take breaking the Sixth Commandment as normal. The present president, Francois Hollande, however, may have breached a heretofore invisible ceiling on the number and timing of mistresses. This is the socialist leader who recently had as his mistress an attractive (unsuccessful) presidential candidate, who bore him four children.

Tastes change and he dropped (or was dropped by) his lady and took up with a female journalist who, after Hollande was elected, became known as the First Girl Friend. Quite attractive as well as intelligent, she won the public’s approval. Did they marry? Bien non. The president got on his motor scooter, masked himself with a helmet and visor and found a new mistress, an actress also quite attractive and accomplished.

Back to the president and his power of attraction. To outsiders, he appears a chubby, balding, bespectacled fellow whom you would peg at first glance as a professor for whose class you would not normally sign up. But all those beautiful women have a vastly different take. Think back to high school: the sports stars drew all the good lookers into their orbits. Never mind that their future earning or entertaining potential or genes ranked lower than many of us guys on the sidelines.

They — the athletic stars — had, like President Hollande, drawing power based on power. When polled, the French vote against Hollande, who sits at the lowest level of any recent French leader. Still, he has power. When his motorcade approaches, traffic pulls to the side of the road. If he goes out to dine, he is photographed. What the French call frisson electrifies the lovelies and sparks back to light up the pudgy professor.

Continuing our leadership survey, we turn to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, perhaps until a few days ago, the leading Republican presidential candidate. Renowned for no-nonsense, direct talk and toughness (some say bullying), the governor has been a law unto himself. He has seemed the embodiment of power (if carrying a bit too much of it around his midsection — but then the whole nation suffers from obesity.) Alas, his staff playfully constructed a massive, multi-day traffic jam intended in a bullying way to pay back a Democratic mayor, who declined to support Christie’s reelection.

A spasm of juvenile sport, which the governor says he neither authorized nor knew about. But, without doubt he certainly inspired fanatical loyalty in his staff and they, being perceptive, thought they would know what would please him. To make the enemy unhappy makes the boss happy. It’s a formula that we have all used, often with pleasing results for our careers.

So, we have learned, an XXL size ego is the starting point for the overweening pride that grows and grows and leads inevitably to downfall. (The Greeks knew this virus as hubris.) Are there other gardens where we find the rankest growth of this choking vine?

Let’s look on Capitol Hill where every resident persuades himself, despite limited talents, of a destiny that serves the nation — and himself. Alas the conviction is not automatically shared by voters and reelections are rarely achieved without special efforts. Two things are essential: Limelight and campaign cash.

With embracing arms stretched wide and palms up, they reach out for support. In effect, votes are for sale to the most generous of donors. Given a bit of success, the once-ordinary fellow can naturally evolve into a sex symbol or big-time bully. Having established residence up there in the clouds next to Zeus, he knows that he enjoys immunity.

Until press reporters and photographers, seeking a measure of glory for themselves, splash the story on page one.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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