By Ian McCullough, Consultant for Consumer-Facing Startups, Armchair Policy Wonk, and Quora User Since November 2010
I think that the question poses a false dichotomy.
Being President of the United States is probably the most intense, stressful, gut-wrenching jobs imaginable. It's been a long and grueling four years ... but this is what he signed up for. If you're looking for speculation about what's in his heart, I think he's running because he wants to prevail. Among many other things, the man is a competitor, and he has to view himself as being at halftime with an uncomfortably tight score - with the possibility that he might get benched before he gets a shot to play the second half.
I don't know the man personally, but that's my guess.
For myself, I want President Obama to win ... but there were some aspects of his first term that I really didn't like. Living in a state that is polling very strongly for one of the major party candidates actually frees me up to vote for a candidate running with a smaller party while not worrying about handing my state's electoral votes to a candidate I don't want. I therefore plan to use the electoral system to send a signal - by voting for Gary Johnson - so that my objection to certain policies is formally recorded in the public record without compromising President Obama's reelection bid.
By Michael Lee, Public Policy Analyst
I agree with Ian McCullough that the question poses a false choice. But that doesn't make it a bad one - I've heard a number of people ask the same thing.
I think the answer is "yes" to both halves of the question. While this is solely speculation, I suspect that the President both badly wants to keep the job and believes it's his duty on behalf of the Party and his constituents. The Presidency is indeed the hardest public service post we elect - just look at how much President Obama's hair has greyed since his election for proof - but no one reaches politics at that level without believing that they can do it and do it well.
I've seen quite a bit of speculation about the President possibly being an introvert, or just not enjoying the rigmarole of campaigning in the same way that Bill Clinton did. I think those are fair criticisms. But I don't think they bear at all on his desire to win, and specifically, to beat Mitt Romney. The President and most of his supporters viewed his election in 2008 as a historical turning point for the country, and I think they're well aware that his defeat would be a powerful blow against the Democratic Party and against his ideology.
By Kai Peter Chang, Libertarian-leaning, Taiwan-born, naturalized American
Being President is a shitty, unbelievably stressful job.
Whether you're a Republican or Democrat, there's at least 40% of the country that thinks you don't belong in the White House and is counting down to the next election to throw your ass out.
And some can't even wait that long.
I was listening to an interview on NPR of Michael Lewis, who followed President Obama around for several months to write a bio, and one of the things that struck me was that in Air Force One, there was a goddamn coffin in there for the President's body in case he got shot/assassinated/whatever.
Think about that for a moment.
Think about a job where EVERYWHERE you go, there is an ongoing reminder that lots of determined individuals out there want you dead, and your own people have extensive plans and preparations for that possibility built in to every appearance, travel plan, or itinerary.
"Welcome to your hotel room Mr. President! Your lead bodyguards will be Ken and Marco, and in case you get assassinated in spite of their best efforts, your body will be carried out in this handsome oak casket. Have a good night's sleep, sir."
Check Abraham Lincoln in 1860, a handsome and determined man ready to lead a nation:
Now look at his haggard-ass face in 1865, just five years later:
Now you may say that is unfair, as Lincoln did preside over a horrific Civil War and oversaw a nation that saw millions of their young people die at each others' hands.
But take a look at Bill Clinton in 1992, as a freshly-elected President with a head of dark hair and an eye full of optimism for his Presidential portrait photo:
Now fast-forward just one term to Bill Clinton circa 1996, four years into a peacetime expansion of the economy and fresh from his victory over Republican challenger Bob Dole:
Holy crap, his hair went white in four years, and he picked up a mass of wrinkles under his eyes! No civil wars, good economy, and it still wrecked his face by at least a decade.
POTUS is a shitty, super-stressful job I would not want to wish on anybody I personally like.
With all that said, to directly answer the question, it does seem like the stress of the job is getting to Obama; Barry looks beaten-down, only upbeat when he's safely within the embrace of his own Party, and constantly stressed out whenever he has to deal with foreign leaders, members of the rival party, or the press.
If Romney wins, I have a feeling he's going to stop looking like a man ten years his junior and his face will rapidly catch up to his actual age by 2016.