Although many of those I work with would believe otherwise, I wasn’t around in the 19th century or even the first half of the 20th century but I suspect the range of effective leadership styles then may have been a little broader than is true today. Back then; although there was a press, it wasn’t as invasive or second-guessing every single word that is said. There were a lot of times the newspapers would kill a story, rather than create a controversy. This was not always the right choice, but I don't think it was any worse than what we have turned into now. One example would be how the press handled the physical limitations of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As far as I know, the press universally made his handicap a non-issue. We like to talk about how we are so much more understanding today, but there is proof after proof on how the press will single out weakness and foible to press home a story that will damage the individual.
So, can we expect to see another Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, or Ronald Reagan in the White House? Can we see someone who knows how to put the country’s needs ahead of party or self when it really matters? Will we see someone who can set a grand vision and then work with those who see things differently to move the country into this new century, or will we be condemned to suffer petty men and woman who are willing to subject themselves to this flagellation of the media for the opportunity to say they are President of the United States, and then go on a non-stop campaign selling themselves as the hero while the administration runs on auto-pilot?
Exactly what kind of leadership style can survive in today’s world? We’ve seen in the last two Presidents opposite approaches, both came with flaws that have lead the nation into a struggling economy. We went through a similar thing after the end of the Viet Nam War, except we had large unemployment and rampant inflation. Mortgages were over 12% interest and the Presidents (Nixon, Ford and Carter) seemed unable to figure out how to start the economy moving. Along came Ronald Reagan and his “Voodoo economics” as George Bush labeled them in the primary debates. Ronald Reagan swept into office with what most would consider a clear mandate, gaining 51% of the popular vote and winning the electoral vote 489 to 49.
Ronald Reagan knew how to relate to the people on Television, he knew how to inspire hope in people, and most importantly he knew how to not rub the victory in the face of the opposition. He found ways to work with the Democratic Congress, to persuade, and when necessary to compromise on the minor points, but stand strong on the critical ones. He failed to do as he promised and scale down the role of the federal government in the lives of its citizens, he ran up significant debt, but by the time he left we had won the cold war without a global conflict and more importantly we were one nation, moving towards prosperity for all who sought it. We were confident, proud and looking to the future.
For the first eight years of this century we had a President who led us in a war, not of our choosing, one forced on us by terror. He was determined to retaliate for an attack on the homeland. He and his administration thought they understood what it took to win a war, he’d watched his father do it ten years earlier. In both Afghanistan and Iraq we did win the war. What they didn’t anticipate or succeed in, was winning the peace. As with most conventional thinkers, they thought once the battle was over and the dictators disposed everything would be okay. It appears they did not understand that terrorism is a strategy of weakness run by men who cannot command vast armies in the field and are in many ways like the hydra. When one head is cut off, two grow back. They did not understand how to win the hearts and minds of those who view all westerns as infidels. President Bush was a terrible communicator on the television and because of that the press picked at him as a vulture would pick at a not quite dead wildebeest.
For this coming election there are a lot of things I don’t know, but the things I am sure of are going to have to be what drives my choice. For example, President Obama is a gifted orator, when his speechwriters have a good script on the teleprompter. The President makes wonderful sounding promises, but hasn’t exhibited a real desire to roll up his sleeves and work with the opposition to achieve them, choosing rather to circumvent the Congress when able through executive orders and creation of unapproved Czars. The President has chosen to support those who would divide this country, and who view us as an evil force in the world. As his administration downsizes the military to reduce the budget and reapportion funds to other programs it does not seem he leads from the front, rather he has been on the campaign trail raising funds for this election.
As a fiscal conservative there is much about Governor Romney I am not particularly keen about, but as a more conventional Republican perhaps, if elected, he will not bring the unwillingness to work with Congress that President Obama has shown, or the distain the Bush-Cheney administration showed to the Democrats after the 2000 election fight.
We must each choose our own candidates, for our own reasons. I hope you make a conscious choice not a dogmatic one.