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by William H. Benson

January 10, 2008

     I watched the presidential candidates debate the issues on television last Saturday evening, prior to New Hampshire’s primary vote on Tuesday, and I was impressed. Each of the Republicans first and then the Democrats next seemed intelligent, articulate, and determined to redirect our country’s future with definite plans.

     Of the four Democrats—Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, and Bill Richardson—I thought that Hillary dominated the debate. As the campaign gears up, and even though I may not agree with her political views, I suspect that she will be difficult to beat. All four of the Democrats vowed that if elected they would bring the troops home from Iraq, a promise I was glad to hear. One of them, perhaps it was John Edwards, said, “To end the war, we must end the occupation.” How true.

     A clear winner did not appear among the Republicans, and yet, I would say that Mitt Romney appeared on the defensive. Mike Huckabee, the Arkansas Baptist minister who won in Iowa’s caucus vote, seemed intense, even wound up, whereas Fred Thompson and John McCain came across relaxed and confident. But, it would be a mistake to count Giuliani out, for the race among the Republicans is wide open; any of them could win the next handful of primaries, even though McCain and Thompson have the most experience.

     By the time you read this, we will know the two winners in New Hampshire, and I predict Hillary Clinton and John McCain.

     Any American who wants to run for the highest office in the land belongs to a select group of very driven and focused people, who must endure a lot of criticism and verbal abuse. Originating from ordinary backgrounds, they are now extraordinary people, and plenty has gone into making these people so driven that they strive for the Oval Office.

     Recently I re-read the book Profiles of Power & Success in which its author Gene N. Landrum identified the traits of the overachiever: intuitive-thinking, an exceptional amount of self-esteem and optimism, a talent for risk-taking, an obsessive will power, manic energy, a dedicated work ethic, plus tenacity and perseverance. In addition, there is usually at least one crisis in such a person’s background, possibly a whole series of them.

     The crisis is not a desirable episode in anyone’s life, and yet, “it appears from the research that such events are the catalysts for transforming average people into overachieving visionaries. The crisis becomes their inspiration.” People who have suffered a great trauma are imprinted by their experience; they are either destroyed by it or pushed into a higher gear and armed with a manic need to succeed.

     The crisis can appear in several forms: a disabling injury, the loss of a parent or sibling when a child, a bankruptcy, imprisonment, a divorce, or abandonment by family members. ”Psychological suffering, anxiety, and collapse can lead to new emotional, intellectual, and spiritual strengths—confusion and doubt can lead to new ideas.” And to new thoughts about who they are and what they will achieve.

     Their lives have become “a Horatio Alger story.” Upon this very theme—of rags-to-riches—did Horatio Alger, Jr. write over 100 books, selling 20 million copies, and once you have read one, you have read them all, even though the titles may change. There was Luck or Pluck, Sink or Swim, Ragged Dick, and Tattered Tom, fictional stories in which a street urchin who, through his own industry, honesty, and perseverance, rises to the top.

     Unfortunately, Alger failed to apply those same qualities to his own life. He wasted his book royalties living the fast life in New York, San Francisco, and Paris, and dying in 1899 in his sister’s home in rural Massachusetts, drained of any semblance of success.

     To throw your name in the ring, to declare yourself a candidate for president, to ask voters for their vote in a primary is to take a gigantic personal risk: it is not for the faint of heart. Few have the gumption to do it, and among those few, only one wins. It is more by pluck than luck and by swim than sink that anyone wins. In 2008 may the voters elect the best person—man or woman—for the job.