Ann Romney: 'This Is Hard'

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Ann Romney's exasperated response to an Iowa radio host yesterday was the truest glimpse we've seen of any of the national-level candidates or their spouses this year.

It was also sad, and potentially quite damaging. It's hardly sporting to identify extra problems for the Romney campaign right now, but this one is different from the others and worth examination.

Mrs. Romney's comments were absolutely true. If you missed it (audio link here), this was the moment-of-truth part:

During an interview early this evening with Radio Iowa, Mrs. Romney directly addressed her fellow Republicans who've criticized her husband.

"Stop it. This is hard. You want to try it? Get in the ring,"

I have seen candidates and campaigns from various perspectives, and the more I see the more I marvel at anyone's willingness to undergo this process. Here's the best way for normal people to imagine it -- quite apart from the fatigue, the need always to be "on," and the need endlessly to be asking for money. Normal people get upset if even one person, let alone a group of them, really has it in for us. Whoever wins the presidential election will know, and must be at peace with, the reality that many tens of millions of people truly think he's an anti-American phony and wish him ill. Such is political victory!

True as it might have been, Mrs. Romney's "break" was also sad and damaging. Self-pity is doom for candidates. They're asking for the honor of representing and leading us. We expect them to act as if it's a privilege, not a burden. Worse, an admission like this is a tell. Winning campaigns never allow themselves to seem frazzled or put-upon. And Mitt Romney himself has not, or not very much.

It's damaging in one more way, which I'm convinced has an effect even if most voters don't consciously focus on it. We're considering someone for a big, tough job. And if that person or those around him buckle under the stress of campaigning, how will they do in office? People who have worked in politics know for sure something that most other people probably sense. Running for president is hard, but there is one thing harder. That's what happens if you win.
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And points off for anyone who thought from the headline that this was going to be about Jill Biden.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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