Talkin' Political Leadership Blues

I want to talk about leadership. I want to talk about a facet of the present American political climate, and I ask you to weigh in on this issue.

We have always elected leaders who we believe in, who we feel we can relate to. But as understandable as these criterion are for electing the President, at what point did “We the People” become so selfish as to expect our elected leaders to reflect our own individual life stories? At what point did their simply empathizing with us become not good enough for us? What does it mean for leadership when we want our President to be just like us?

Of course, this is a representative democracy, where I can supposedly elect the person who best represents my beliefs to a public office where he or she will see that my best interests are served. Sure, we can expect representation, but only if we know what is best represented. Unfortunately, in a country of 300 million plus, in a country where individuality is sanctified, perfect representation is an ideal, if not unreasonable. And considering that we proselytize democracy around the world as the ideal form of governance, if not the perfect manifestation, it is time to start electing candidates based on our ideals and not our personal reflections.

Oftentimes, those best suited to lead are truly different from us — they often rise above the fold (which by definition includes us) in order to encourage the throngs to do things we wouldn’t do otherwise, to transform things for the better and develop this potential in us. Just because a leader stands apart does not mean they do not empathize with the People, the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Look at FDR. Few could relate to his patrician background, but his ability to connect with people negated any talk of elitism. Was he such a bad leader?

So, if a leader is someone we choose to follow, then it is still possible for us to elect the “better angels of our nature” and not the lowest, right? Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural address, which contains these words, is an inspiring example of the aptitude of an intellectual and political leader. Americans today seem to badly want the democracy of today to be like the democracy of the Founding Fathers, but I fear that if Lincoln’s speech were given today it would be dismissed as complicated, didactic, and elitist. Not to mention that I suspect few would be able to understand the speech in its entirety, with its rhetorical flourishes, penetrating rationality, and talk of “organic laws”. Instead, we have let the detritus of our nature and our culture be elevated, we’ve let it consume, and influence our political landscape and government, to the detriment of our national reputation—and dignity. But maybe that’s just me.

American politics today panders to the lowest common denominator. Politics has become a game of demagoguery, and I think this is a reflection of what we’ve let ourselves become. It’s no longer enough for a politician to exhibit likability, to exhibit rationality or prudence, today it’s about the game, it’s about vitriol and thunder. And as a result, Politics have become a reflection of our fears and insecurities more than our ideals. And We the People, We the Media, have been a crappy watchdog.

So we might pause today to think about what kind of leader we truly want steering the nation through the next four years. For me, I would like to gain a leader who is going to do what’s best for this country, not one who’s going to give me some temporary feeling of personal justification. Though I’ve played hockey for fifteen years, I’m not going to vote for a hockey mom just because she’s like my mom, or vote for a leader who drops the “g’s” off the end of words in order to seem more colloquial, more pastoral. These people are all highly educated, and none of them are really like us, so why should we pretend? Our pretending got us people like Abramoff. A great leader lifts us all up and makes us the better for it, even if it means some book larnin’ along the way.

I’m voting for the candidate who’s least like me.

But clearly I’m an elitist. What do you think?

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1 Comments

  • Josh Josh

    I think the writer makes a few really good points, but Lincoln's America was a very different country than today's: much less diverse, far more polarized, and cast in only a bit part geopolitically. So too the role of the presidency changed, and the responsibilities. America has struggled with isolationism since even before Lincoln, but today our magnificently polyglot nation, with its preeminent role on the world's stage, has no choice but to engage. So I suspect that I am also voting for the candidate who looks the least like me, but in my case that is because he looks most like the world my kids must find their way in.