The ordinary man believes he is free when he
is permitted to act arbitrarily, but in this
arbitrariness lies the fact he is unfree.
My first major purchase was a new bike. I just saw the movie Breaking Away and was all in when it came to biking down highways, listening to Italian Opera and hanging out with unemployed friends. But first, the bike.
There weren’t many places for a ten year-old to buy a new bike in Sioux Falls, SD circa 1979, but there was The Bike Barn. The store even looked like a barn. It was bright red. It sat on top of 10th Street Hill on the east side of town like an anachronism to another time, like the sole mercantile store on an endless prairie.
When I swung through its wide doors, I did no research. I held no game plan. I had as much knowledge of brands and types as a hayseed farmer looking for supplies. At the moment all I had was a need.
PROPRIETOR: Afternoon, Partner.
ME: Afternoon, Old Timer. I’m in the market for a new bike.
PROP: Well, you came to the right spot.
ME: I reckon’ I did with your sign outside sayin’ The Bike Barn.
PROP: You got a sharp eye. A bike is what you want and bikes are what we sell.
ME: Show me what you got.
PROP: How about this one?
ME: Does it have ten speeds?
PROP: It does.
ME: I’ll take it.
That was it. I plopped down my money and biked out the door. Luckily, my purchase turned out to be a good fit. But would it have been helpful to have other options or was I better off unaware of greener pastures? In the dawn of my nascent purchase power, was it best to keep it simple and get out of the barn unscathed?
Each of us, every day, is bombarded with decisions. Where to go? What to do? Who to see? For some, making the wrong decision merely brings a shrug. For others, a bad decision can cost millions of dollars; prematurely end a life or have clothes tossed out of an apartment window.
An argument can be made that the President of the United States is not a role for the indecisive. It’s definitely not a position for those who desire positive feedback. It’s a job where half of the public thinks you are doing a lousy job before you even take an oath. And they may not be wrong as James Fallows of The Atlantic writes: “All presidents are unsuited for office.” (Fallows, 2013) He then goes on to list an implausible job description:
“He [prez] needs to be confident but not arrogant; open-minded but not a weather vane; resolute but still adaptable; historically minded but highly alert to the present, visionary but practical; personally disciplined but not a prig or martinet. He should be physically fit, disease-resistant,and capable of being fully alert at a moment’s notice when the phone rings at 3 am – yet also be able to sleep each night, despite unremitting tension and without chemical aids.”
Basically, the President of the United States needs to be as positively perfect as Mary Poppins, which isn’t feasible for the Secret Service wouldn’t allow a president access to an umbrella that works like a jet pack.
So umbrella-flying nannies need not apply, but what about Barack Obama? How did he do? Was he disease-resistant? Did he ever fall asleep on the President of Guatemala? Did he really quit smoking? How he did will be left to the historians. What he did has been well-documented. And if you take out the detractors and the cheerleaders, you will see a picture of a neophyte to the international stage with no executive experience who nonetheless took his role with a certain amount of gravitas.
So how did he make decisions? How do we all do it? And why do we get so emotional?