To Pick a President 4 - Leadership

How to be the leader Americans deserve.

Why would anyone want to be President?  Sure, the perks are great, but half the world hates everything you do.  If you want to be loved, go to Hollywood.  If you want to change the world, go to Washington.

Changing the world, though, is not easy.  You can have the best ideas there are, and unless you can persuade other people to go along with them, you're just a nut on a street corner, even if it's a famous corner in Washington, DC.

The difference is called "leadership," and it's absolutely vital for anyone who wants to run anything larger than a Boy Scout troop; even at that low level it's close to essential.  We've looked at presidential experience both good and bad, and at presidential temperament; now let's talk about how to be a leader of a nation.

Forests have been felled to write tomes on the subject of leadership; we aren't going to attempt to replicate those efforts here.  There are, however, a few specific leadership traits that, while always important, are particularly necessary for a President.

The Great Communicator

How many people in the world have the ability to get all the TV networks to break into their regular programming for a live speech?  One: the President of the United States.

This is a power not to be trifled with.  Obama has asked for airtime so many times, and then delivered such trite and pointless speeches, that the networks are starting to turn down his requests.

Once he's got the attention of the world, a clumsy President can shoot himself in the foot.  Jimmy Carter's celebrated "malaise" speech crystallized the idea for many voters that he was not the man for the time.

On the other hand, Ronald Reagan had an awe-inspiring ability to punch through the media fog machine and talk directly to the American people.  In a way, he was able to establish an almost personal relationship that the mainstream pundits simply did not understand.  This ability was based on shared middle-American experiences media people didn't have but he did.  This gave Mr. Reagan the power to persuade America that his way was right.

In these troubled times, Americans of all political persuasions have contempt and distrust for all their politicians.  This makes sense - practically all of our politicians are contemptible and untrustworthy.

If he's to have any hope of even beginning to address America's problems, our next President has to be able to communicate with the American people what needs to be done, why, what will happen, and how we move ahead.  This is not optional; it is essential, it is vital, and it is extremely rare.  Fortunately, a couple of the Republican candidates seem to at least have latent potential to rise to the occasion.

A cautionary example: George W. Bush.  There were many good reasons for invading Iraq, and several bogus reasons.  Unfortunately, Mr. Bush did an execrable job of explaining the good reasons, thus letting the lousy ones reign supreme.

When things went badly, his opponents took complete command of the narrative.  Mr. Bush seemed incapable of even defending himself, much less giving persuasive explanations.  We are now realizing that he's nothing close to the Worst President Ever - but he sure let himself be described that way at the time.

The Buck Stops Here

It is physically impossible for the President to know everything that goes on in his administration, much less the entire government.  This doesn't matter - the President is ultimately responsible for all of it.

Every single President inherits bad situations, developing time-bombs, and unknown unknowns.  You know that when you apply for the position.

Every Presidential candidate always blames the last guy for doing a lousy job.  We've heard that so often that it's faded into being part of the scenery.

The problem arises when an elected President still blames the last guy for everything that's going wrong.  Before you're holding the nuclear football, it's fair to complain about the fellow who is, but when it's you, blaming someone else simply means "I can't fix it" - and that means you don't belong there.

We the People know that when you take the oath of office, what happens from that day on is entirely your responsibility.  "Look at the mess I inherited!" is neither an explanation nor an excuse; it's a wretched, miserable copout.  Simply saying those words proves a President unfit for office by reason of incompetence.

We will never know what exactly Mr. Reagan knew about the Iran-Contra scandal, or when he knew it.  When it hit the fan, the Gipper realized it didn't matter, and said the words America longs to hear:

First, let me say I take full responsibility for my own actions and for those of my administration. As angry as I may be about activities undertaken without my knowledge, I am still accountable for those activities. As disappointed as I may be in some who served me, I'm still the one who must answer to the American people for this behavior.

Those involved faced court trials over the forthcoming years; many were pardoned, but not by Reagan.  Having taken responsibility, Mr. Reagan departed beloved by his people.

Our government is so irredeemably corrupt from top to bottom that no matter who the next President is, there will be constant scandals being uncovered, most of which can fairly be blamed on someone else.  We don't want a President who deflects blame, but rather one who accepts it, then uses his fury as a stick to bludgeon those truly responsible on our behalf.


As we've explored, our modern economy largely runs on faith.  Mr. Obama works hard every day to destroy our faith in the future, in our economy, in our government, really in every aspect of our lives.  He's done such a good job that the work of rebuilding confidence will take a long time.

As difficult as it may be to see the light at the end of the tunnel, our President must constantly point to it until we begin to see it - for only when we start to believe will it actually arrive.

Again, Mr. Reagan provides the gold standard modern example.  He inherited a lousy economy.  He didn't shy from that reality in his inaugural address, but he expressed both confidence and a plan:

The economic ills we suffer have come upon us over several decades. They will not go away in days, weeks, or months, but they will go away. They will go away because we, as Americans, have the capacity now, as we have had in the past, to do whatever needs to be done to preserve this last and greatest bastion of freedom. [emphasis added]

He convinced America that it would happen - so it did.  Mr. Obama has done the exact opposite and, predictably, has failed miserably, or succeeded if his goal was to weaken us.  Let's not make that mistake again.

Look for a happy President - one who faces reality, but is confident in America and Americans.

Taking Calculated Risks

Every politician makes promises in order to get elected.  Most of the time, when it's time for re-election, they make the same exact promises they did before.

What went wrong during the last term that you weren't able to pass what you promised last time round?  The excuses are myriad - it wasn't the right time, we were in the minority, and so on.  Sometimes, they're even true.

Over time, however, when a party has been making the same promise for decades on end and getting nowhere on accomplishing it, it's fair to conclude that its officials are just blowing smoke and don't actually care about the issue.  The Republican Party has claimed to be the party of smaller government for as long as we've been alive, yet not even under Reagan did the size of government actually shrink.

It's no wonder that many true conservatives bitterly complain about RINOs - Republicans In Name Only.  This year, we are blessed with at least a few examples of leaders who have actually accomplished great things by taking risks.

Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, took the awe-inspiring risk of actually kneecapping the public-sector unions that were bankrupting his state - and despite weeks of civil disorder, he won!  Thanks to his efforts, corrupt unions bosses will have tens of millions of dollars fewer of forcibly-extracted, taxpayer-subsidized dues to spend on electing Democrats than they did last time round; to the victor goes the spoils.

If a leader truly believes in something, he must take risks to accomplish it, not always hedge his bets.  Reagan asked "Are you better off now than you were 4 years ago" - and told Americans to judge him the same way 4 years hence, which they did, in his favor.  George H.W. Bush "Read my lips, no new taxes!" - and he was condemned by his own words, making it obvious that he never really believed in them.

George W Bush bet his whole presidency and legacy on doing what he thought was right, invading Afghanistan and Iraq.  It would have been better had he explained his reasoning more clearly, but it's apparent to all save the frothiest far-left loons that he truly believed military action was necessary.

What does Mr. Obama believe in enough to really come out and fight for?  To the fury of the left, clearly not a full-on single-payer national health care system.  To the dismay of the right, obviously not any serious deficit-reducing cuts.

Mr. Obama has accomplished a great deal, most of it harmful, but is there any issue where he has effectively used the bully-pulpit to persuade American onto his side, risking his own credibility in order to accomplish something he views as important?  Not really.  Even his own party realizes that his leadership skills are a bit lacking.

When a man takes risks to do something, that shows that he believes it's important.  Most people are more inclined to follow someone who displays that kind of confidence.  In our current mess, the last thing we need is a cautiously-hedging middle manager.

Of course, just because someone is a good leader in the sense of being effective doesn't mean they'll be a good leader in the sense of being, well, good.  Adolf Hitler was a great leader, one of the very finest in history, if all you care about is effectiveness; alas, where he led Germany was more horrible than even his opponents could imagine at the time.

If the voters of Germany had studied Mr. Hitler's beliefs before he became Fuhrer, they might have been better off.  In the next article in this series, we'll navigate the highly-controversial topic of religion and why it matters in an American President.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Politics.
Reader Comments

"We don't want a President who deflects blame, but rather one who accepts it, then uses his fury as a stick to bludgeon those truly responsible on our behalf."

Exactly 100% totally and completely right.

THIS is what has been missing, and not just with Obama but the last 4 Presidents in a row.

The American people are intelligent enough. We have no problem understanding that everything that goes on in the executive branch is not the direct fault of the President himself. But we want him to, at very least, be accountable and RAISE HELL FIRE. I don't understand why modern politicans don't understand this. Deal with it directly, fire people that need firing and move on. The polling and whining and trivializing and blaming only HURTS you.

August 30, 2011 10:38 AM

The points that Petrarch makes are obvious to those who keep up with politics and are helpful reminders of what we have and what could be.

What is the solution for more people to become involved in a personal way, the way of personal research into the candidates and the problems, not those of Chicago-style leadership. For me it begins with education and not the method that we deliver education today. When we teach our children via the teacher's unions we are, as evidenced by the thugs in Wisconsin, teaching that brute force is the answer when you want something. This is wrong to the core. We, as taxpayers, should demand the dismantling of the Department of Education on the Federal level and secondly eliminate teachers unions. Everyone else is held accountable for their results, why not teachers? Vouchers should be made available for all children so the parents could choose what they think is the best school for their child. If the public schools are the best then they will get the student. That is our goal is it not, the education at the highest level for our children?

If this could be done then the election of our leaders would go to practical problem solving and away from the thuggery that occurs at an alarming degree today for our elections. People need to get their own information and only through being taught how to obtain information on all subjects, not just politics, can they be prepared to achieve at the higher levels that we want for our children. This solution would absolutely scare 90% of politicians straight down to their bone marrow. What a lovely result that would be.

August 30, 2011 10:55 AM

"His people"...yes and were these the people of the US in whole? No, only the Republicans. Many others recognized him as a duplicitous half wit.

August 30, 2011 4:18 PM
Add Your Comment...
4000 characters remaining
Loading question...