For those born to aspire to political leadership, the office of president of the United States is the glamour prize. It brings enormous power, the power to command the greatest military machine in the world, the vast power of political patronage and the kind of international fame and prestige most people on the planet can only dream about.
If the rest of us do start dreaming about it we are likely to quickly develop mental health issues.
Presidential candidates plan their whole lives for the battle to gain the Oval Office and they fight to the death, all the way to the last hours of long campaigns to win it. They are freaks. It is a filthy business. Every wart in your past, every thoughtless association you had will be exposed.
The attacks from your opponent and his machine will be vitriolic and relentless. You might even get shot for your trouble, but the prize is the prize and it makes the risk worth everything and more.
The fear that many have who admire Barack Obama is that, because of his colour, he could be the next president assassinated.
Only 43 men have won the White House and five have been killed on the job. Abraham Lincoln was the first, on Good Friday, April 14 1865, just a few months into his second term.
A fortnight before, Richmond, the Confederate capital, had fallen to Union forces. A week before, Robert E Lee had surrendered the main army of the Confederacy, the Army of Northern Virginia, in the Court House at Appomattox.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis and his crumbling government were on the run.
The Southern sympathiser, John Wilkes Booth, brother of the great actor Edwin, decided that only a great and decisive gesture could save the Confederacy.
He went into Lincoln's box at the theatre and shot him in the back of the head. They hunted him down to a barn and shot him 12 days later.
The great Lincoln was dead, his life stolen, and there were tsunamis of grief across the nation.
In July 1881, Charles Guiteau, a disturbed man seeking a government appointment, shot President James Garfield, who lingered until September before he died of blood poisoning.
Twenty years later, President William McKinley was shot twice by an anarchist in Buffalo, New York. He died eight days later, on September 14, 1901. His Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt, already a renowned explorer, naturist, writer and soldier, said when he saw a soldier running across the field to find him on his estate at Sagamore Hill, he understood immediately what the news would be.
So began one of the great presidencies.
Then came Dallas, November 22 1963 with Lee Harvey Oswald and the images of President John F. Kennedy strewn across the back seat of the presidential limousine. At the age of 13, it was the first great loss I felt.
There have also been many assassination attempts.
Andrew Jackson went to a funeral for a congressman in 1835. Richard Lawrence came up to him with two Derringers but they jammed. Lawrence spent the rest of his life in a mental institution.
Theodore Roosevelt survived a .38 bullet after he left office. A spectacle case and the thick wad of speech notes jammed into his breast
pocket saved him. The bullet was never removed.
Franklin Roosevelt was giving a speech in Miami in 1933 when a man fired into the crowd around him. Roosevelt was not hit. The gunman went to
Harry Truman, in 1950, was staying at Blair House, over the road from the White House. Two Puerto Rican independence campaigners shot their way in. A policeman died and one of the gunmen was killed. The other was sentenced to die but Truman commuted the sentence to life.
Jimmy Carter freed him in 1979.
In 1975, Gerald Ford survived two assassination attempts, both by deranged young women. 'Squeaky" Fromme, one of Charles Manson's girls, pointed a gun at him and was over-powered.
A fortnight later a woman, trying to prove herself to a radical outfit by killing a president, fired at Ford but a bystander stopped the bullet.
Five years later, in March 1980, John Hinckley shot Ronald Reagan in the forlorn hope of impressing actress Jodie Foster.
So, of the 43 presidents of the United States, gunmen have killed, or tried to kill, 10 of them. Obama has a one in four chance of a successful or an unsuccessful attempt on his life.
If he wins the presidency, and I think he will win comfortably, fears for his security are well justified. How publicly he can be exposed at gatherings and meetings and out on tour is going to be a quandary for his guardians.
Obama has run a beautiful, patient campaign.
His coffers are flush and he was able to splurge on a 30-minute infomercial on network television. His voice is intimate and thoughtful and produces a feeling of his being close to you. His smile is one each of us would love our sons to have.
His journey from childhood is the stuff of a legend. It is the stuff of Abraham Lincoln and the loss of a mother and the log cabin in Kentucky, a journey against all the odds. And he saw off the incredible Clintons and is about to see off a genuine Vietnam War hero.
That John McCain looks odd may help him.
Several American presidents have been quite bizarre looking people. The most weird looking were James Monroe, number 5, Andrew Jackson, 7, and James Buchanan, 15.
The most bizarre presidency was that of William Harrison, which lasted a month. His inaugural address of 8444 words is the longest in history.
It took him two hours to deliver, standing without a coat in freezing weather. He caught pneumonia and they treated him with, so I read, opium, castor oil, virginia snakeweed and even snakes.
This is one thing about politics in the modern era.
With television, the net and newspaper photography we know what a candidate looked like over a prolonged period in all kinds of situations. Through radio we can hear the voice and voices tell us lots about a person.
Before radio and television the public, especially in vast countries, only knew a candidate by their distributed speeches. You could look quite mad and become president of the United States. It is harder now, but McCain is making a good fist of it.
At home, the Labour Party had a terrible week. The Prime Minister fell spread-eagled in a Christchurch mall. Voters can't help but see symbolism in physical stumbles by political leaders.
The Mike Williams-driven taxpayer-funded attempt to find a golden bullet to smear John Key failed, and bit Labour badly on the backside.
What Williams was researching happened 20 years ago. On paper, it might have seemed a sensible strategy. If our politics are now so presidential that it's a contest between two people, then trying to take out the other might be the thing to do.
It looked like desperate dirt, a last, desperate attempt to smear. For a party campaigning on trust it was disastrously unpleasant. It is hard to see how anyone could trust a group of people prepared to go to such lengths.
National danced with glee and its leader spun it perfectly, right across the moral high ground, straight back in Clark's face. She knew it and was understandably defensive and ill-tempered at Friday's NewstalkZB leader's discussion.
I have never known her so out of sorts.
There is a lesson for Labour from the American campaign. Obama has stayed on message. Despite the crap thrown at him by the McCain camp, he has not responded. He has forged ahead with his simple message of change, projecting dignity, sincerity, reason and vision.
As columnist Joe Klein said in Time, the dirt has not worked because the American people are thinking very seriously about this election. The same is happening here.