This year's presidential election has forced us to ask a ton of tough questions. Is Donald Trump pranking us? Has the media really grown out of mocking Hillary Clinton's pantsuits? What is socialism, anyway? Can Mitt Romney or John McCain come back?
The hardest question of all is the one no one is asking: Why would anyone want to be the president of the United States? The pay is so-so, the job is next to impossible, and the only real perk is meeting rap stars. When you aren't hosting the cast of Hamilton in your house, you have to deal with shit like ...
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Question: Who handles more germs a year: the president of the United States or a back-alley hooker?
Answer: Science isn't sure.
Ditto for "Who spends more time in Congress?"
According to one Washington insider, the president meets an average of 175 people a day. That's almost 65,000 people a year. Multiply that by the probable number of germs on their hands, and you get a string of zeros long enough to water slide through.
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A small-hands man wouldn't last two weeks.
Just to curb the odds of death by everything, hand sanitizer has become as crucial as the Secret Service. An insider reported that one former president went through an entire bottle every week, and it's since become a staple for every major politician on the campaign trail. And because political strategists are the kinds of wizards who can spin a legitimate public health service into a bad thing, you can bet their opponents found a way to be offended. New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson refuses to touch the stuff, insisting that "It's condescending to the voters" to avoid infecting yourself and everyone else you touch with super death flu.
Even Obama raised an impeccably groomed eyebrow after George Bush ran for the Purell after shaking his hand. Of course, it wasn't long before he found out why and started keeping his own aides armed with antibacterials. How did the media report it? "Barack Obama Doesn't Trust Your Dirty Hands." No word on what his own medicine tasted like, but presumably Lysol.
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Moving into the White House seems like a dream come true, but it comes with a small nightmare: a household staff of over 300 who will be privy to your every movement, including way more bowel ones than anyone is comfortable with. And they don't give a fuck about you. The average length of service for a chief usher is 20 years -- they were there before you, and they'll be there after you leave. You are but a drop in the toilet they'll be scrubbing for eternity. And they might see your dong.
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Even if you don't show it to them on purpose.
Former Chief Usher Skip Allen thinks it's hilarious to regale people with stories of walking in on a fully-to-nearly-nude President Reagan twice in one day, once in front of Nancy. The first time, Allen was sent to deliver a top-secret message to the Commander in Chief, and Reagan invited him into the bathroom knowing full well his Washington Monument was on display. Later in the evening, Allen was dispatched a second time to the Reagans' bedroom, and Ronnie received the message in his knickers. When Nancy tactfully suggested a robe, he declared, "Oh, it's alright. He's already seen me naked once today. We're old friends.'"
Silly Reagan took it for granted that the culture of discretion among the White House's staff would hold firm forever. Little did he know that a tell-all book featuring interviews from presidential butt-wipers across several administrations would be published in 2015. Which was weird, because the Reagans had access to an excellent astrologer.
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Who confirms the size of Ronald's Pisces.
While Reagan's Johnson and Johnson's masochistic bathing equipment certainly make for good stories, the most damning anecdotes come from recent administrations. Surprisingly, the very thing that probably made OG Bush's policies sit badly with you made him and his family the most liked among the household staff. "The Bushes were used to having help, and they knew how to deal with it," according to The Residence: Inside the Private World of the White House. The Clintons, on the other hand, freaked right the hell out.
Out of what The Washington Post describes as their "deep concern for privacy," Skip Allen claims, "They were about the most paranoid people I'd ever seen in my life." They particularly distrusted him personally, he says, running unnecessary background checks and having him tested for drugs three times in 14 months, because obviously a man who curries favor with voters by playing the jazz sax can't be in the company of stoners.
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Even if you don't inhale.
Other staff members recalled the Clintons rewiring the phone system so they could be assured that no one was listening to their calls to each other, and it soon became clear why. One florist told of a scene he overheard that would have been right at home in a trailer park on an episode of Cops: a Clinton-on-Clinton shouting match that ended with the sound of "a heavy object being thrown across the West Sitting Hall." You heard a lot of "foul language" in the Clinton White House, he says, and the pastry chef reported Mrs. Clinton's increasing requests for her favorite chocolate cake around this time. We've all been there, but we're pretty sure that if Clinton wanted the citizenry entertained with tales of her stress-eating, she would run her own Twitter account.
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Expressing an unpopular movie opinion is always a socially risky proposition, but if you think it's hard now, try doing it as the leader of the free world. Because Gawker believes there's nothing that isn't their business, they filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act, the gift from your crazy uncle that you didn't even want that keeps on giving, for a list of every movie Clinton and the Bushes watched at the White House. In the meantime, they combed through Carter's diaries, while others researched the viewing habits of Nixon and Reagan, so they could infer way too much about them.
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"Nixon watched To Kill A Mockingbird? Because he was racist, probably!"
They wasted no time in noting that the allegedly ineffectual Carter spent the most time sitting on his ass watching movies, most notably a private screening of Apocalypse Now attended by Francis Ford Coppola himself months before the movie's release. They comment ominously that Carter and Nixon both loved war movies, which could have had the same effect as the time your repeated viewings of Frozen convinced you to evolve ice powers. They even imply that a viewing of A New Hope with the president of Egypt was instrumental in subsequent peace agreements in the Middle East.
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The whole thing almost fell apart during when he tried making a sand people joke.
They're even attempting to use Clinton's viewing habits to prove ... something ... about the Lewinsky scandal. There are "curious gaps" in Clinton's bizarrely Mel-Gibson-heavy cinematic schedule, they say, observing that he watched only three movies in 1996 and seven in 1997, according to the "heavily redacted" records. This period of time coincides with Bill's affair, leading the author to conclude that those in power are covering up viewing sessions with Lewinsky. Because clearly the most incendiary part of that affair would be obtaining the secret knowledge of how many times they watched One Fine Day together.
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The Oval Office seems to exist in an anti-technology vortex where time stops and flip phones are still cutting edge. All three of the last presidents appear to have fallen tragically behind the times as soon as they walked through that door. Obama clings to his faithful Blackberry, becoming woefully confused when he has to use an iPhone. Bush Jr. referred to Google as "the Google" in 2006. Clinton had sent a whopping two emails by the time his term ended in 2000. (Though to be fair, one of them was to space, so his email is still cooler than yours.)
Tweets to space don't count.
What's going on here? Does the inaugural ball include rolling the president elect into a time capsule? Well, there are two reasons presidents lag behind in the technology game. One is security: We can't have world leaders walking around with fancy tracking devices in their pockets or (as the Clintons learned) sending hackable emails. Bush sent a heartbreaking goodbye email to all his WoW friends on the eve of his inauguration, explaining that, "Since I do not want my private conversations looked at by those out to embarrass, the only course of action is not to correspond in cyberspace," which kinda makes you wonder exactly what kind of cyber "correspondence" he was involved with.
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The other reason is that being president is really time-consuming. Between starting wars and taming Congress and trying to keep the maid out of your business, you're too exhausted by the end of the day to give a shit whether your Blackberry is still cool.
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When you find out how much it costs to be president, totally independent of the millions you'll spend just getting the job, you have a lot more sympathy for all those pleas for donations. For example, first ladies are expected to be flawlessly dressed, to the point where it can actually hurt her husband's career if she's not. Just one of Michelle Obama's dresses can cost thousands of dollars, not including accessories, and she doesn't borrow or accept gifts from designers.
It's not only an Obama problem, either. Mary Todd Lincoln considered selling manure from the White House grounds to pay for her clothing, and JFK's father personally ensured that Jackie could afford to be fashionable, because he knew damn well that a prospective first lady couldn't look basic. Keep in mind that the president's salary, including non-travel expense accounts, is less than $500,000. That might sound like "high-class escorts and blow" money to you, but when you have to make weekly trips to Chanel because you're constantly under the global microscope, it gives a whole new meaning to the term "tightening your belt."
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And the belt is $265 from J. Crew.
To add insult to injury, when you move into the White House, you have to pay to transport all your shit. You're kind of required to live there, so it's not like you have a telecommuting option. And you can't shop around for the cheapest movers, either, because movers can't enter the White House for security reasons, leaving the heavy lifting to the White House staff. Once you're there, you have to pay for your own furniture and other decorations, unless you want to make do with the tacky crap the previous first lady probably left behind and/or sleep on the floor, neither of which will impress voters. Your day-to-day living expenses are all out of your own pocket, too. Not only does the most powerful man in the world have to buy his own toilet paper and toothpaste, but he also has to send someone out to do it for him, who will eventually blab to a reporter about the time they bought the president a bulk pack of Charmin.
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And you know that if his toilet paper is too soft, it will become a campaign issue.
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In case you were wondering why Michelle Obama doesn't simply fill her wardrobe with gifts from designers who would be more than happy to buy a first-lady-sized billboard, it's because presidents can't accept gifts. Everything given to them, from Barca-Loungers to books, is considered the property of the American people -- hence the presidential library. Any ball gowns Mrs. Obama borrows for a particular important event gets chucked in there as soon as her ladies-in-waiting strip it off her, so you might as well buy the damn things.
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"I killed Bin Laden, and I don't even get this stupid T-shirt."
This famously got the Clintons in hilarious trouble. Before they checked out of the White House, they prowled around scooping up keepsakes like the place was on fire, taking $190,000 worth of goods that may or may not have been theirs to take. They had to return at least $28,000 worth of furniture that was conclusively identified as donations to the White House, and wrote a big check for the rest. It wasn't big enough to cover everything they took, but without definitive proof of who owned what, everyone presumably shrugged their shoulders and figured history probably wouldn't give a shit.
Deep inside us all -- behind our political leanings, moral codes, and private biases -- there is a cause so colossally stupid that we surprise ourselves with how much we care. Whether it's toilet paper position, fedoras on men, or Oxford commas, we each harbor a preference so powerful that we can't help but proselytize about it to the world. In the next live episode of the Cracked podcast, guest host Soren Bowie is joined by Cody Johnston, Michael Swaim, and comedian Annie Lederman to discuss the most trivial things we will argue about until the day we die. Get your tickets here!
For more presidential wackiness, check out The 5 Most Badass Presidents of All-Time and 6 Great US Presidents and Their Crimes Against Humanity.
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