SCOTT SIMON, host:
I brake for politicians. I had that thought today because of Governor Sarah Palin's announcement. Now, I have no idea if she is, as NPR's politics blog so nicely headlines it, retreating or reloading, and I'd guess from the outside maybe she doesn't know yet either. But then I brake for politicians.
I've known enough of them - Chicago City aldermen who were considered the low end of the food chain, if not human evolution - as much as any national names you might recognize, and as a group I like them. Politicians are human - if you prick them, they will bleed; if you pet them, they'll lick your hand. They're filled with anxieties, contradictions, duplicities, but I wonder what groups, including journalists, salespeople, hammered dulcimer makers or Franciscan priests are not.
My friend who's a politician told me he once complained to an aide: why are there so many phonies in this business? She said, my brother sells shoes in Manhasset, he says the same thing about his shoe store.
I suppose I've been fooled many times by politicians, but many times being cynical about them fooled me just as badly. Years ago, Vice President Al Gore cancelled an appearance with us. His office said he had family business. We speculated with much authority that Mr. Gore was reluctant to take questions that would call on him to defend President Clinton when there were so many allegations about the president's extramarital conduct. The next week, Vice President Gore's father, Senator Albert Gore, died. His son had gone to be with him and had wanted to keep his visit private.
One weekend in 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell cancelled a Mideast trip for what his office described as personal reasons. We speculated he'd lost some squabble with White House neocons and might soon resign. Days later, Secretary Powell had cancer surgery, which didn't stop us from speculating the next weekend with unhumbled authority that Mr. Powell would soon cite his health to resign from office. He announced his resignation a year later.
It's very hard for most of us to appreciate the pressures under which politicians live. Every word they utter can be quoted, smart people know they can advance their careers by bringing them down, their lives get X-rayed like diseased spleens, making beauty marks into warts, their families become fair game. If most of us make a lame joke, people groan. If politicians do it, or don't know the leader of Andorra - Albert Pintat - I looked it up - they get portrayed as idiots.
So I can understand if sometimes one of them just wants to get off the merry-go-round for a while.