A Politician Is Like a Human Arcade

10/26/2010 06:49 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

There is nothing like it, I suppose: Having your whole person out there for public inspection.

If you run for office -- especially in these times, you're pretty much completely exposed. People get to decide what they think of you in toto: your personality, how you come across, what you've done in public office, what you might do. It's like what author Tom Wolfe wrote in Bonfire of the Vanities. It's like being a human arcade that people can walk through pointing up at different features of yours, seeing and saying whatever they like, commenting out loud on whatever about you they "don't" like, leaving their fingerprints, the harsh memory of rejection, all over you.

What is it that drives men and women to do this? To submit themselves to this manhandling, this being treated like an unwanted pair of gloves, fingered with, tossed back again -- and again -- like they were some "item" on some display counter in Filene's Basement.

Why would anyone want to be treated like this?

Yet every two or four years men, and increasingly women, line up to take the abuse, sometimes paying huge bags of their own money for the privilege.

And the simple fact is we need these people -- need them there on the ballot, need some of them as our leaders.

Why? Because democracy, at least as we practice it, is not some exercise where people join together and as a community and pick leaders. It's altogether different. It's a process of would-be leaders picking themselves, getting out there where people can attack them, out there where their names and reputations can be spat upon -- or worse.

I say all this because I know enough of the world to know that other countries don't have such luck. They could use these politicians, these people who trust democracy enough to take their chances with it. They don't have people like Bill Clinton, and all those lesser political lights. They don't have people who have the stuff to pull people together, who know how to sell themselves, to build coalitions, to make themselves into leaders. Why else do you think nation-building is so hard? It's because it's hard to find natural democratic leaders except in those countries like ours where people can grow up knowing they have a shot at being one.

So get out there and vote for the best of them, and don't begrudge all the other would-be politicians because the worst countries are places where they don't have them.