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Why I Can’t Be President (and Never Could)

Don’t Want the Job Anyway


CAN’T BE PREZ: One of the many popular myths about our democracy is that “anyone can grow up to be president.” Well, I’m here to tell you that the “anyone” could never have been me.

As a young man, I failed a litmus test that isn’t in the U.S. Constitution.

When I was a lad, my mother used to urge me to become a doctor, like her beloved brother. (I had no interest.) But she never said anything about me becoming president, which is a good thing. (It never crossed my mind.)

Barney Brantingham

For one thing, I was, and still am, ineligible to be president. And lest the “birthers” get on my tail, I was actually born in the U.S.A., at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, to be exact. Along with my twin brother, Bruce, who was and is eligible, as far as I know.

Throughout our history, unwritten rules and taboos have kept a tight rein on who occupies the White House. You doubt?

Then name one woman president. Or one Catholic, until John F. Kennedy broke the bias ice in 1960, but only after a battle with Protestant leaders who feared that he would take orders from (gasp!) the Vatican. Al Smith became the first Catholic to run for president when the Democrats nominated him in 1928. But Southern Baptists and German Lutherans feared that the Catholic Church and the Pope would run the show. He lost in a landslide to Herbert Hoover.

Name one Jew, or one Mormon. (That could change next year, of course, because at least two Mormons are seeking the Republican nomination.) Yet this lack of religious diversity in the office of president doesn’t seem to bother us.

I always wondered which would come first, a black president or a woman chief executive. Just as J.F.K. changed political history in 1960, Barack Obama changed it in 2008 so that we can now expect the presidency to be open at least a little bit wider to non-whites and non-Protestants. There will be a woman prez one of these days, no doubt.

It occurred to me that you might think I fail to be presidential material because I’m gay. I’m not, but I guess we can cross them off the list, too — for the foreseeable future, but not forever. The day will come that a gay or lesbian will be nominated by a majority party and he or she can shake hands and kiss babies at church chicken dinners. But probably not in 2012.

So why am I DQ’d from the presidential wannabe list? What damning mark is stamped over my image? Look, I served two years in the military, which is more than most if not all the current prez-derby contestants can say. Not that this qualifies me, but when it comes to politics, it seems to count for some voters. I was never in combat, and no one ever shot at me, so I admit I lose points there. I did help protect the Panama Canal before it was turned over to Panama.

I voted for Dwight Eisenhower — twice — so that should put me in the political middle, sort of. I also became a J.F.K. Democrat during those heady days of the New Frontier. I’m a tax-paying homeowner, with a wife and four kids and a bunch of grandchildren and a beautiful great-granddaughter. Voters love that kind of mainstream stuff.

I am a divorced man, and in the 1950s, this cost Adlai Stevenson countless votes in his losing race against World War II hero Eisenhower, who did or didn’t have an affair with his female driver. But when Ronald Reagan ran for president, his divorce was only mentioned in passing.

I’m no angel, but I’ve never been arrested and have no DUIs or felonies on my record. I admit that I’ve made a living for many years as a journalist — a disreputable trade, some might say.

But what makes it virtually impossible for me (and about 1.6 million other Americans) to be elected president is something else that isn’t in Article II of the Constitution, but might as well be, right alongside the requirement for being at least 35 and a “natural born citizen.”

I’m an atheist. I didn’t plan on it. It just happened, like my hair turning gray, only long before. My parents usually sent me to the closest Protestant church to our house, but this is what my belief system turned out to be. I married two Catholics. My kids believe what they want. Fortunately, I don’t want to be president. Or a doctor, and I think my mother (God? rest her soul) would understand. I just want to live in my cozy San Roque home with my wife, Sue, and two cats and be friends with my children and the world.

HOMAGE TO HITCH: How, I wondered, could PCPA Theaterfest make a comedy — of sorts — from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1930s black-and-white thriller The 39 Steps? But darned if the brilliantly, inventively staged version I saw Saturday night in Solvang wasn’t great fun to watch, while sticking fairly close to the original plot. Watching speedy set switches and costume swaps was a kick. Just four actors play more than 100 characters. Through July 3.

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