A paper delivered by Charmaine at UVA in 1997.
Foundations of the American Presidency: From Character to Charisma… and Cherry Trees to Big Macs,
“The pious ruler is by far the most likely to promote the public good.”
Minister and Revolutionary soldier
Introduction: The Question of Character
On the 50th anniversary of Meet The Press, moderator Tim Russert told his special guest, President Bill Clinton, about an NBC poll that had asked “What is the image you have of Bill Clinton?”
Forty-two of the respondents replied “playing the saxophone;” six percent replied “eating at McDonald’s.” The President laughed. “It’s funny,” he replied. “And I haven’t eaten at McDonald’s a single time since I’ve been president.”(2)
Presidency-watchers sprang into action and produced photographs of President Clinton leaving McDonald’s, Big Mac in bag, on several occasions.
The following week, Russert brought up the discrepancy. Russert, obviously amused, commented that the President’s spokesperson had explained that President Clinton meant he hadn’t eaten AT a McDonald’s in the last six years.
Russert’s colleague, Lisa Myers queried, laughing, “Does this mean that when I get fires at the drive-thru, they don’t count?” Russert turned to his guest, radio talk show host, Rush Limbaugh and asked his opinion.
Limbaugh replied that he wondered how we could believe the President when he talks about Iraq if we can’t believe what he says about Big Macs. The two venerable members of the Fourth Estate, Russert and Myers, just kept laughing.(3)
This incident illustrates Clinton’s tendency to take liberties with the truth. No one, with the possible exception of Ray Kroc’s heirs, really cares whether or not the President eats at McDonald’s.
The episode, therefore, is significant only insofar as it gives us any insight into the President himself, his character.
It provides an occasion to ask: Does honesty in the chief executive, as an element of his character, matter?
Russert and Myers answered by laughing.
Continue reading at the jump.