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Mike Rowe gets down and ‘Dirty' with ex-presidents

Kate O'Hare
Zap2it.com (MCT)

Harry Truman, our 33rd president, once observed, "No man should be allowed to be president who does not understand hogs, or hasn't been around a manure pile."

"I'd kiss him on the mouth for that," says Mike Rowe, host of Discovery Channel's hit series "Dirty Jobs," in which he tackles some of the most disgusting and sometimes dangerous employment experiences out there.

Sorry, but Truman's wisdom isn't going to come in handy this election.

In terms of the candidates' jobs before running for office, we have, on the Democratic side, a lawyer/community organizer/author (Illinois Sen. Barack Obama) and a lawyer (Delaware Sen. Joe Biden) versus, on the Republican side, a former Navy pilot/POW (Arizona Sen. John McCain) and a hockey mom/PTA member/fisherman (Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin).

Such are the limitations of democracy.

On Tuesday, Discovery marks Election Night with a three-hour "Dirty Jobs" marathon, including, at 8 p.m. EST, a special episode called "Dirty Presidents," which looks at some of the icky, grimy and nasty former occupations of the White House's former occupants, intertwined with scenes from past "Dirty Jobs."

For example: Abraham Lincoln was a butcher; Calvin Coolidge managed a menagerie of exotic pets; Ulysses S. Grant became a soldier and evaded his family destiny to be a tanner; and Herbert Hoover was a miner and engineer.

In addition, throughout the marathon, 12 "Dirty Politics" segments give additional insights into the surprising former jobs of former presidents.

The new segments were shot at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library in Simi Valley, Calif., which includes a scaled-down replica of the Oval Office as it was furnished and decorated in the Reagan White House (with the temporary addition by "Dirty Jobs" of some taxidermied animals, including a beaver and an armadillo).

"I'd never been," Rowe says of the Library, "and I always wanted to get up there. It's amazing."

For the record, Reagan's former jobs included radio announcer, actor and president of the Screen Actors Guild. He also was also an Army reservist in the cavalry and had a ranch, so he no doubt had some familiarity with manure, which would get him one point from Truman.

Asked what he thinks best qualifies one to be president, Rowe also goes to the poo place, saying, "Certainly you should be familiar with as many different types of poo as possible, because the types of poo that are going to come across your desk are going to be both varied and horrific.

"So I believe that a good, let's call it a poo-based liberal arts background is an ideal footnote for any president to have. Basically, be a farmer - farmer or fisherman. There is no better occupation to prepare one for true leadership than farming or fishing."

Several of our earliest presidents had farms, including our second chief executive, John Adams - seen plunging his hands deep in a manure pile in the recent HBO miniseries about his life.

None of our current candidates has an agriculture background, but Palin did operate a fishing business in Alaska with her husband. Coincidentally, Rowe narrates "Deadliest Catch," Discovery's hit series about crab fishermen in Alaska's Bering Sea.

"You learn the fact of what you can control and what you can't," says Rowe of farming and fishing. "You can get the crops in the ground. You can plant them just the right distance apart. You can get the soil exactly the right way, but you can't decide how much rain is going to come and how hard the wind's going to blow. And you can't control the temperature.

"Just like with fishing, you can use the right bait. You can go to the traditional grounds, but they don't call it catching - they call it fishing.

"That's how you lead people. You look around, put your finger up in the air, see which way the wind's blowing, make your best guess and cross your fingers."

Rowe has a few other suggestions of possible interim occupations for those with presidential ambitions.

Mule logging: "If you understand the temperament of a mule, you are well on your way to understanding the challenges of Congress."

Ostrich farming: "If you understand the vagaries of an ostrich, the alarming way they can kill you with a kick, then you are well on your way to understanding the best way to handle a lobbyist."

Alligator farming: "If you're willing to throw yourself on the back of an alligator and hold its mouth shut while somebody else tapes it closed, you're probably in a perfect position to veto an otherwise popular bill."

In conclusion, Rowe says, "We need a president today that's willing to throw himself on an alligator, roll round in a vast variety of poo and call on a wealth of experience born from working with donkeys."

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