WANT HEROIC LEADERS?
START WITH A VIRTUOUS PUBLIC
February 3, 2008
The Presidential primaries and the election are in full throttle mode. The Democrats are determined to win at all costs, even if it means fragmenting the Party in a cultural war. Some say there is a racial divide within the Party. Others are concerned that Clinton fatigue is settling in across the Country. And what about the Republicans? They are determined to find the heart and soul of their Party. There appears to be a struggling power search for their philosophical base. There are some even in the party who feel that the Bush Presidency has trashed some of the solid core conservative beliefs. And as far as both parties are concerned, there seem to be intra- and inter-party struggles pointing to conflicts in personality, self-centered egotism, and demagogy at its worst.
And so, the war on words and unscrupulous campaigning continues. "A fairy tale campaign" one says; "pandering and pretending" says another; and charges of false accusations are frequently made. Animosity between several of the candidates, even within the same party, appears to be running rampant. And the reach in wallets of others for campaign financing is running deep. Recently, in Buffalo, New York, the Clinton campaign held a "one thousand dollars a plate dinner" to fund their campaign. Think of it, with that kind of money, the quantity of food, warm clothing, and needed medicines that could have been purchased for needy families. And then, there are the charges and counter chargers of falsifying the truth, half truths, making up the truth, or lapses in memory. And then too, the question has been asked, "how can one holding a full time elected PAID position, drawing a public salary, and at the same time, be in a full time campaigning mode for another position?" As someone has said, "Give me a break." And the Candidates engage in personal destruction of others while they declare that it is all about "policy." We tend to think it is more about "personality" and snollygostering.
One cannot help but wonder... where is the civility and moral authority we knew and so admired in Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Jack Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan; or, in the role model of such foreign luminaries as Margaret Thatcher and Winston Churchill? Americans are searching today for models of virtue as exemplified by some of our greatest leaders... true heroes, if you will.
Soon we will celebrate Presidents' Day. We honor Washington and Lincoln and all of our Presidents, all 43 of them. We pay tribute to them for their dedicated public service and personal valor. Truly, some of them are heroes of virtue, noble in service, and honorable in duty. Many of them displayed moral leadership in times of peace and in times of war. And moral authority is what Americans are so hungry for this day and in this Presidential election year.
The role of authority in government is not only to uphold moral, ethical, and intellectual standards but also to guarantee social and political freedom, and to act as a barrier against centralized, arbitrary, and despotic power. We use authority to protect our rights, to provide order and security, to manage conflict, and to protect individual freedoms. The authority of the American government originates from the Constitution. The moral authority consists of the felt obligations and duties from shared community values, ideas, and ideals. From a democratic perspective, the very nature of authority must be moral in form and content. Otherwise, social violence, chaos, and coercion will be the norm. Moral authority rest on voluntary consent. Democracy, by definition, cannot exist without values. And that is what is central in the minds and hearts of the electorate today. And the electorate is looking for those values within the hearts and minds of the candidates.
Many Americans have become disenchanted with the politics as usual and the politics of personal destruction. Unfortunately, Government and the political process are often viewed as dominated by special interests, egomania, and self interest, rather than notions of the "common good" for Americans. Citizens feel caught between the crossfire of self-interested politicians and vindictive self-serving candidates and their surrogates.
The government is only as good, decent, and moral as its citizens. Individual integrity, responsibility, and accountability are the best check on political abuse. Americans must find the common themes and values that transcend our ever deepening cultural differences. We must all be able to identify, articulate, and appreciate the core values of America. We need to reaffirm our national civic values--the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights--that bring us together as a people. Our core beliefs of principle and honor must be a guide to our actions.
We are now in the midst of the election season. The Presidential primaries are front and center. There are and will be local elections this spring in many communities as well as the annual school board elections in many schools districts. The fact of the matter is: the bottom line criteria in the minds of the voters come down to the overall character of the candidate. For without good character, being a good orator, a clever debater, or a slick campaigner, just does not cut it. President John F. Kennedy said it well, "Courage, not complacency is our need today. Leadership not salesmanship is what is required." To put it bluntly, we are right to demand good character of our leaders and to believe that character and discipline is inseparable from moral leadership. It was John Locke who said "The discipline of desire is the background of character... for the actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts." In effect, when character is lacking, the public will lose confidence and the government becomes ineffectual. And this is true be they a school board member, a village, town, state, or federal office holder or the President of the United States.
Americans are searching for noble leaders of virtue at whatever level of service... local, state, or federal. We, as an electorate, must be willing to put personal self-serving interests aside and make hard choices based upon the fundamental principles on which this Republic is founded. If we want to find heroes in our leaders, we must first demonstrate heroism in OUR action. A genuinely virtuous people elects heroic leaders. And that is how we see it FROM OUR PERSPECTIVE.