And you know who endorses that notion? Thomas Friedman. In a New York Times report giving a presidenting-is-so-hard spin to Barack Obama’s vacillating incoherence on the unrest sweeping the Arab world, reporters Mark Landler and Helene Cooper offer this nugget at the end:
Mr. Obama has told people that it would be so much easier to be the president of China. As one official put it, “No one is scrutinizing Hu Jintao’s words in Tahrir Square.”
Bill Kristol uses few words to savage Obama for this sentiment:
If you’re president of China, people around the world who are fighting for freedom don’t really expect you to help. If you’re president of China, you don’t have to put up with annoying off-year congressional elections, and then negotiate your budget with a bunch of gun-and-religion-clinging congressmen and senators. If you’re president of China, you can fund your national public radio to your heart’s content. And if you’re president of China, when you host a conference on bullying in schools, people take you seriously.
Well, Hu Jintao is technically “President” of China at the moment, but he has a lot of other titles that make the nature of that government more clear. Among them: “Paramount Leader,” “General Secretary of the Communist Party,” and “Chairman of the Central Military Commission.” Being “president” in China isn’t the same as being President of the United States; it’s a dictatorship, or at the very mildest, the strongest position in an autocratic and thoroughly entrenched and unaccountable political system.
As such, yes, it’s easier to wield power, which was exactly Friedman’s point and why he was an idiot for making the case for enlightened despotism over representative democracy. Making power easier for government to yield was the exact outcome that our founders feared, which is why they wrote the Constitution and ratified it 222 years ago. Enlightened despotism is still despotism, and the “enlightened” part depends entirely on whether the analysts fall in or out of favor with the despot.
And since the “president” of China doesn’t give a damn about the freedom and liberty of his own people, no one really gives a damn what he thinks about the freedom and liberty of others. Most see that as a feature of being President of the United States, not a bug.
Finally, Obama might think it would be easier to be President of China, but he’d have found it impossible to become President of China. Unlike Americans, who can vote for whomever they choose, the entrenched power structure in Beijing would never have allowed an untested backbencher with no experience in executive management to have come close to the top job. Obama should be thanking his lucky stars rather than lamenting his fate.