A quick word about political leadership

I hear all sorts of poorly expressed views about politics and politicians.
One complaint that surfaces is often expressed along the lines of how modern politicians are not great leaders. The discussion invariably involves a comparison between today’s politicians and earlier politicians. In the UK, the discussion would usually involve comparing current politicians unfavorably against Winston Churchill. In the USA, the current generation of Republican politicians are often compared unfavorably to Ronald Reagan (sometimes Dwight D. Eisenhower appears, among military veterans).
The comparison is misguided. It is misguided because I concluded many years ago, watching the rise and fall of Margaret Thatcher in the UK, that electors, except in wartime or a national crisis, do not want leaders. They want panderers. They want politicians who will validate their beliefs, tell them everything in the world is fine, fix stuff For Them and make their lives (as they see it) better. They don’t want grand visions, big ideas, or anything that represents real change. (The phrase “policy wonk”, which I heard being used all the time in reference to Al Gore in the 2000 race, was not intended as a compliment). They only want leaders in a time of crisis. The rest of the time they just want validation, and a steady hand in government. You can see that whenever politicians give speeches suggesting big ideas or the need for the country to change. Most commonly the airwaves fill with bloviators ranting about the politician in question being “condescending” or “talking down” to people.
When countries hit a crisis, and enough electors determine that, there are two possible course of action. They can vote for an established politician with a bold vision who promises to lead. Or they can vote for an insurgent, usually somebody with big ideas, a grand vision, compelling rhetoric and a promise to turn the place upside down.
In the UK, Winston Churchill successfully led the UK through World War II. He was an established politician who returned from almost-retirement to take charge at a difficult time. Later on, the UK voted for Margaret Thatcher, a similar established politician. Thatcher’s leadership was not to a lot of people’s liking, including mine, but she did respect the fundamentals of democracy.
Germany, in the early 1930’s, where the established political process was deeply dysfunctional and ineffective, chose instead to vote for an insurgent Austrian-German with charisma and a promise to make Germany great again. His name was Adolf Hitler. We know how that turned out for Germany and a lot of the Western world.
The two points here?
1. I don’t believe electors demanding leadership from politicians. Most of the time they want no such thing.
2. If you vote for an insurgent, do not expect the insurgent to respect established norms such as democracy and due process. That’s why they are an insurgent. They want to turn the place upside down.


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