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Friday, April 24, 2009

Do political parties present a barrier to quality leadership?

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[This post #728 is a response to comments from a reader of my post #726.]
As with many complex issues, my answer to the title question is, "Yes, but ...". Yes it is a barrier, but it is not the only barrier, nor do I think these barriers are insurmountable. Some of the other barriers include (but are not limited to): the prohibitive cost of a Presidential campaign (it took half a giga-buck to elect Barack Obama!); the invasion of privacy that comes with the job; and the tremendous toll on a President's physical and emotional well being. It is the most powerful position in the world; yet it's accompanied by an onerous personal price.

As many (but by no means all) people realize, the election campaign demands a great deal of pandering and not a little outright lying. The self-absorbed constituents are not all that interested in anything beyond their own selfish little cravings. But no sooner does the dust settle in November than the reality of governing the world's foremost economic engine and its only legitimate super power come crashing down on the "winner". Suddenly, the promises made to unreasonable demanders, just to get elected, begin to crumble like stale crackers, and the furious wackos at either end of the sanity spectrum begin frothing at the mouth.

At this moment of truth, however, the quality of the elected leadership begins to be revealed. It is not the President's top priority to satisfy his party's expectations; nor is it even the top priority to insure his re-election! A true leader knows that his sworn obligation is to the preservation of the Nation's well being. All other considerations are secondary, and are largely the province of the petty little partisans who slither through the halls of Congress.

There have been numerous rankings of the Presidents by scholars (and others who flatter themselves). About a dozen Presidents have been deemed outstanding leaders. Two are perennially chosen as near immortals. The first, George Washington, was not affiliated with any political party and was the only unanimous choice of the electors. As Commander-in-Chief of the Revolutionary Army and the presiding officer of the Constitutional Convention, it is small wonder that he was a slam-dunk for the Presidency (pardon the anachronistic colloquialism).

The second near immortal, Abraham Lincoln, was affiliated with a political party, and his election was contested under the circumstances of our multi-party system. When elected as our 16th President, he had only been a one-term U.S. Congressman (having failed in his re-election bid) with little military experience. One might be tempted to claim Lincoln to be "the exception that proves the rule (that political affiliation is a barrier to quality leadership)", but, truth be told, I have never understood what that expression really means. So let's just agree that Lincoln was a miracle the likes of which will never again be seen.

In any case, there are another ten or so Presidents who were exceptional leaders, and they comprise sufficient evidence that political affiliation is not necessarily an insurmountable barrier to quality leadership.

Being an insufferable narcissist, however, is insurmountable.

Post #728 Do political parties present a barrier to quality leadership?

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