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Waiting for a Leader

August 31, 2018

Nations can live for many years without great leaders. Too often there are none to be had. And those often celebrated as Great Leaders are just “famous.”

I attribute the dearth of leaders which the United States experiences today as a sign of decline of American political culture for which remedies are not easy to find.

There are many possible leaders today who are viewing the funeral services commemorating Sen. John McCain, but they do not aspire to political office. Those that do carry the virtues and vices of their professions.

The U.S. Military engenders candidates for political office and there are many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seeking office in upcoming elections. If they went to one of our military academies they were trained to be engineers and skilled in military science. Political philosophy, Constitutional law and the history of American government are not parts of their concentrated studies. And that is important. The story of West Point graduates of the Class of 1965 was not a class on whom the stars fell. Their lives were challenged by injury, suffering and death in Vietnam. They were properly prepared for that by their studies, but not for campaigns for, and the holding of, political office.

Our business classes are even less prepared for public office. That fact is clearly visible in the actions of the present occupant of the Office of the President of the United States. The duties of government office cannot be served as if they were a business. There is law, the Constitution, the history of our foreign policies that lamentably led to deaths of Americans in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq. All that must be studied if we are to avoid the  failures of past American leaders. The world is a dangerous place and preparing to defend our country from its enemies requires more than financial, marketing and even management skills.

Our political movements are a third source of leadership.

The Progressive movement gained traction in the late 1890s and spread like a  cancer throughout the body politic, propelled to power in the Presidency of Woodrow Wilson and expanding during the Great Depression and the leadership of President Franklin Roosevelt. It’s last gasp was visible in the failed Presidency of John F. Kennedy, yet its influence has dominated American politics through the election of Barack Obama.

The great counter to the Progressives found life in a virile Conservative movement, deeply patriotic, anti-Communist and resolved never to fight another war unless victory was our goal. Its penultimate leader caused us to desire to “win one for the Gipper.” For thirty years, from the 1950s through 1980, the Conservative movement generated leaders through education of conservative students in colleges throughout America by national youth organizations. Many who filled the appointive offices of President Ronald Reagan’s Presidential Administration came up through “the movement.”

Over the following thirty years, that stream of leadership was lessened and, today, when we look around at the political landscape of state governors and members of Congress we see that our politics is marked by the mediocre or ideologically driven. The latter group are profoundly dangerous, and we “normal” citizens wait for a great leader.


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