Political commentator Cal Thomas observed the following in his book Blinded by Might:

From the beginning, men and women have sought power. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve wanted the power to be like God.  China’s Mao Zedong said power comes from the barrel of a gun. Lord Acton’s often-quoted remark about power is that it is corrupting and when it becomes absolute, it corrupts absolutely. . . .  

Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac. People may have wealth, position, and fame, but unless they have power, many of them believe their lives are incomplete. Power cannot only seduce, but can also affect judgment. It can be more addictive than any drug.1 Biographer Anne Edwards agrees. In her book The Reagans: Portrait of a Marriage, she observed, “Power is not only an aphrodisiac but also a hard-core addiction.”2

John A. Huffman, Jr., senior pastor of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Newport Beach, California, recalls the time when he learned of a contagious disease that had spread throughout our nation’s capital. The disease is called “Potomac fever.” He learned about it from the late Admiral William Lukash, who served as White House physician under Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter. Once a person is infected with Potomac fever, he or she becomes a power addict.

Lukash explained how Potomac fever works. A young woman, fresh out of college, applies for a low-level White House job. Once hired, she’s thrilled at the privilege of simply walking those white marble corridors where so much history has been shaped. She doesn’t care about power.

She is just happy to be there, carrying out even the most menial of duties in the White House.

Time passes. She acquires greater responsibilities—and as she is promoted, she begins to want more power. The first time she rides aboard Air Force One is a thrill. But soon, on future trips, she joins the competition for seats closer to the front, closer to the president and the seat of power. Eventually, the ambition for power becomes boundless and all-consuming.

That, Lukash told Huffman, is how Potomac fever gradually takes over a person. Huffman adds that another Washington insider, former Senator Mark Hatfield, had another term for Potomac fever. He called it, “The sweet, sweet smell of white marble.”

In his book Getting Through the Tough Stuff, pastor Charles Swindoll tells about a trip he took with his friend Charles Colson, the former chief counsel for President Richard M. Nixon. Colson was convicted of charges related to the Watergate scandal and spent time in federal prison. As they traveled together, Swindoll asked Colson, “Why would anyone want the burden of being president of the United States? I wouldn’t want that job for all the money in the world!” Colson smiled knowingly and replied, “One word, my friend: power.”

Charlemagne (Charles the Great, A.D. 742–814) was king of the Frankish Empire and the most powerful ruler of the Middle Ages. After conquering Italy, he was crowned Imperator Augustus by Pope Leo III on Christmas Day in 800. In January 814, after spending weeks in the forest on a hunting expedition, Charlemagne was stricken with pneumonia. On January 28, after taking Holy Communion, Charlemagne died at age 72, and was buried in Aachen Cathedral.  

Two centuries later, Otho of Lomello, Count of the Palace at Aachen during the reign of Emperor Otto III, claimed that he and the Emperor had opened Charlemagne’s tomb and found the late king’s body. According to Otho, Charlemagne sat upon his throne, his crown upon his head, his scepter in one hand, and his other hand resting on the pages of an open Bible. Otho said that Charlemagne’s finger pointed to a passage in the New Testament: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26).