Shots of Wit

A regular posting of witticisms, aphorisms, and general musings by Clifford Cohen.

Political leadership…

What this country needs is a progressive conservative as president—not a conservative progressive.

Back Story

(Spoiler alert: today’s post gets a little bit “preachy” and is a bit longer than usual; tomorrow I’ll return to my usual phlegmatic self (this description will give a chuckle to anyone who actually knows me).)

I actually thought this observation up 8 years ago, but it probably still has some relevance today. Here’s my simplistic assessment of what you get when you elect:

A conservative conservative: Inaction based on ideology.

A progressive conservative: Action from a position of prudence.

A conservative progressive: Inaction out of fear.

A progressive progressive: Action for the sake of action.

Of course, there are many other types of politician, including “none of the above”. And any type of politician might be perfectly suited to a particular place and time. However, given the general mood of dissatisfaction and disillusion evident in the most recent election, it appears that America is not currently producing candidates that adequately speak to the aspirations and concerns of the electorate.

Looking back in our history, and given the challenges we face, one cannot help but wonder why America does not produce viable politicians in the mold of Theodore Roosevelt anymore. Three words described Theodore Roosevelt: Courage, Caring, and Competence. Roosevelt had few intellectual equals in politics. He used that intellect, his boundless energy, and his prodigious courage, to achieve a visionary agenda that, at the time, was stiffly resisted by special interests. He found purpose in a deeply rooted love of America and the American people. Today, such expectations sound naïve, simplistic, and unrealistic relative to our present circumstances. I suggest they are not. While it is true that presidential history is complex (i.e., when we judge a president, we are judging not only the person, but the person in the context of their times, their milieu, and the actions and abilities of their contemporaries), it is never too much to ask that our leaders embody the timeless qualities that are so critical to our survival as a nation.

There are of course many facile answers to the question of why the qualities we truly seek may not be adequately represented in the person each of us might vote for as president (I can think of a few reasons myself), but the more important question is: “what does this fact say about us as a nation?” Today, we are wedded to political and economic philosophies, elegant theories, and platforms. We do not trust our instincts. We deny our own power, we retreat from wicked problems. We openly admit that our leaders are powerless (or understandably unwilling) to curb the runaway influence of special interests. If what we really want is vigorous action grounded in both prudence and decency towards all Americans, we must be willing to find our future leader and not wait for them to come to us.

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