I don't mean to mock, but here's what George W. Bush told HBO, according to Gawker, about his most nervous moment as president. Turns out it was when he threw out the first ball at a Yankee game after 9/11:
The adrenaline was coursing through my veins, and the ball felt like a shotput. And Todd Greene, the catcher, looked really small. Sixty feet and six inches seemed like a half-mile. And anyway, I took a deep breath and threw it, and thankfully it went over the plate. The response was overwhelming. It was the most nervous I had ever been. It was the most nervous moment of my entire presidency, it turns out.
You could say "What about starting the Iraq War?", but that creates anxiety of a different kind. What Bush is talking about here is the anxiety associated with performance. Am I going to do OK, or will I screw it up? But I would have said his debates with John Kerry -- on which his entire presidency could have hinged, with tens of millions of Americans watching -- would have provoked more nervousness.
So what's the difference? My guess is that Bush wasn't worried that a bad performance during a debate would mark him as less than a real man. But in having to perform an athletic task, Bush's manhood was at stake. And that made him really, really nervous. In fact, he and the rest of his party were so proud of him throwing out that pitch that they constructed their 2004 convention video around Bush's act of baseball heroism. In case you haven't had enough September 11 remembrance, here it is: