There are many mysteries concerning why prodigious intellects and stalwart political leaders arise where and when they do. I do not pretend to fathom these enigmas. Nobody has ever explained to my satisfaction, for example, why a Dante, Machiavelli, and Michelangelo would appear in Florence, Italy during the 14th and 15th centuries but not in the more populous cities of Milan, Naples, or Venice, either then or later. Or why there were no first-rate poets in England during the two centuries between Chaucer and Shakespeare, or in the century and a half between Milton and Wordsworth. Or why a Goethe, Kant, Schleiermacher, and Hegel would all grace Germany in the 18th and 19th centuries. Or why those colonial representatives who were present at the Constitutional Convention, despite their modest educational backgrounds relative to today's standards, would remain unequalled in majesty and insight during the next 221 years of our history. Mysteries one and all! "The spirit blows as it will."
The problem with contemporary America that perplexes me so, and I make no bones about it, is the apparent absence of great leaders. Where are they? Let me be clear: I am not referring to those who are blessed merely with oratorical skills, or are capable of delivering "pork" to their State or district, or occasionally reach across the aisle of Congress to strike a Faustian bargain with the devil. I am talking instead about persons like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Harry Truman.
Washington was far from an erudite man, but his reputation for honor and integrity was unimpeachable. He could have continued in the presidency indefinitely. His fellow-citizens were willing for him to do so, while many of them even expected it. Yet his sense of duty and honor dictated otherwise. The western world watched in stunned disbelief as he voluntarily relinquished the office.
Lincoln was unquestionably ambitious, but his raw ambition was tempered by his keen sense of public service. A case in point was his acceding to ability and performance over pettiness and partisanship in his appointment of cabinet heads. Personal tragedy – his own clinical depression, an emotionally unstable wife, the death of two sons, and the sense of drowning in the blood of a ghastly war – refined the man's soul like a refiner's fire. His countenance embodied the words, "The strong must learn to be lonely."
Roosevelt was a New York aristocrat for sure, but once wrote that "[n]ine-tenths of my fighting has been against men of enormous wealth, and their henchman." How ironic! Teddy's ebullient personality was exerted as a trustbuster in the public interest. Do not forget that he also served the people as a conservationist and international peace negotiator.
Truman was a simple fellow, but one of immense courage, who had no patience with polls. They were not his political oracle or weathervane. He despised, as did another Missourian senator before him Thomas Hart Benton, the "bubble popularity that is won without merit and lost without crime." In addition, old Harry was an autodidact, whose voracious appetite for books gave him a sharp, critical perspective. He could more than hold his own in discussions with experts on either foreign or domestic policy.
Where are such men today when we need them? For the last fifty years, America has yearned for enlightenment in immigration, fiscal affairs, energy, healthcare, and education, but has not received it. Our "leaders" during this time have often been self-interested creeps, who have taken pains to check which direction the wind was blowing before taking a stand. Principle be damned, right?
As I listen to John McCain's platitudinous insistence that our nation's best days are ahead of her, I am far from convinced. I subvocalize, "Oh, sure; you bet. Give me a break!" I would venture to guess that the Arizonan's faith in the future of this country is being met with the same degree of cold cynicism by those who ditched stock last week at basement prices while others watched in desperation as their portfolios were decimated and corporate criminals continued their pillaging of the taxpayer.
It is not only Sen. McCain. Barack Obama's optimistic vision of government would frankly cause me to laugh, if it were not poised to strangle us. Like a mother whose expression of overbearing concern stifles her children's freedom and is, in the end, indistinguishable from tyrannical authoritarianism, the kind of government that Sen. Obama champions will eventually squeeze the life out of us.
As I ponder the game of "patty cake" that the media have played with this man in an attempt to promote his candidacy, I shudder. Twenty years in Jeremiah Wright's hate group called a "church," an association with Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn sufficiently intimate to be welcomed into their home, and a propensity toward the socialist thought of Saul Alinsky are facts routinely skated over by the corrupt, fraudulent media. If his past is prologue to the present, then Obama represents the new spirit of tyranny in American life. His election to the highest, most powerful office in the Free World is an enervating prospect.
America's government is impoverished and dysfunctional, because our public faith and culture have been trodden under foot. We as a nation are held together by a few threads, which are becoming increasingly frayed. Great leaders seem nowhere in evidence. It may, however, be more accurate to assert that America has simply not tapped the leadership it has, which is waiting to be summoned forth. We can hope.
James Wilson addressed Pennsylvania's ratifying convention in November, 1787. Commenting on the matter of "where . . . supreme power reside[s] in the United States", he allowed that some would probably answer that it resides in our various constitutions. "This however . . . is not a just opinion; for, in truth, [power] remains and flourishes with the people. . ." Exactly. For all the mystery that surrounds greatness, the fact is that, in a democratic republic, citizens get the quality of leadership they deserve. So, on Inauguration Day, 2009, after we listen to the new President's anodyne assurances of all that the welfare state will do for us, let us look straight into the mirror and direct our rage against ourselves, the nation's worst enemy.
October 11, 2008