Kids Who Would Be King
Editor's Note: Upon the publication of this article on Nov. 12, 2008, a major source in the article claimed that the author of the piece had made an agreement with him that was henceforth broken. Consequently, editors at The Crimson determined that it would be appropriate to alert readers' attention to an addendum written by the author, explaining in finer detail the circumstances of the agreement she had made with her source at the time of the article's reporting.
Last February, Christopher A. Ballesteros ’12 stuck a flag pin in his lapel, walked onscreen, and informed the viewers of channel K5 that he was ready to be president. Not president of his student body—he had done that already. President of the United States of America.
It was Chris’ first talk show appearance. Andy Bumatai, a Honolulu comedian, had heard about the local kid with Oval Office dreams and invited him for a chat. With the cameras rolling, the 17-year-old settled into an armchair next to Bumatai.
“Chris, I want to ask you,” Bumatai said, leaning forward, “if you could have, by some hook or crook, run this year, would you?”
Chris didn’t hesitate. “I would have loved to,” he said. “I would have loved to combine the charisma of Barack Obama and his oratorical talents with some of the other candidates’ positions on different issues.”
Bumatai was playing it for laughs (“Oh man,” he chuckled, “at his age, I was like, ‘Do you want fries with that?’”), but Chris was serious. He spoke in long, polished sentences, occasionally flashing his white grin at the audience. Only his left arm, frozen in one position along the arm of the chair, suggested any hint of nerves.
Bumatai remembers meeting Chris for the first time. He had it all: the suit, the tie, the high-school-debate-team poise. “It’s like he was created by central casting to be the kid who wants to be president,” Bumatai said in a phone interview. Chris already had his path to the White House worked out. He was waiting to hear if he had been accepted to Harvard. After that, it would be law school, then practicing law, then running for the House or the Senate, and finally the presidency.
“When you say the House of Representatives—locally here?” Bumatai asked.
“Um, I was thinking on the national level,” Chris said. Bumatai kept clapping and guffawing at Chris’ answers, but the host’s teasing was underlaid with a sense almost of wonder. Could this kid be for real?
“I’ve actually wanted to be president since I’ve been about three years old,” Chris told Bumatai. Then he tossed back his head and laughed at the host’s response. It was a nice laugh: short, not too shrill.
“At three years old,” Bumatai said, “I wanted to be Big Bird.”
When I got into Harvard, my father told me I should watch out for the freshmen who want to be president. There were some in every class—fast-talking, glad-handing politicos who started campaigning for the Oval Office the minute they entered the Yard. Ignore them, my dad said. The people who will actually succeed in politics are smart enough to keep their ambition quiet.
I tried to avoid the presidentials at first. But the longer I spent at Harvard, the more fascinating they became. Most Harvard students are pretty ambitious. But wanting to be president—and letting people know it—that seemed like a whole different level of ambition. Maybe all these presidential kids were just a bunch of tools. But I was intrigued. Where did these guys come from? What were their motives? And did any of them actually have a shot at the White House?
A COCK-EYED OPTIMIST