Listening to a recent political debate, it is clear that, like traveling salesmen, politicians want us to trust them. They want us to believe they will be forceful and strong, that they have the guts to stare down a Putin or call out an Assad. They want us to believe they have the leadership skills to lead the nation through perilous times. Give them the authoritative power, the position of governance, and our nation will once again be great.
It’s all rather presumptuous, but one’s sense of self, one’s assumptions of grandiosity have to be effected by the political process. The applause of the fawning crowds, the way a crowded room falls silent when they enter, the cameras.
But here’s what I find myself wishing—but not certain I will find—
A candidate whose rhetoric would speak to our highest interests, our greatest needs, rather than pander to our more immediate wants.
A candidate who would spend more time listening and less time speaking—less time posturing.
A candidate who is realistic about one’s true importance, who recognizes that the graveyards are filled with indispensable men. A candidate who would read this sentence everyday—“It is a great advantage to a president, and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know he is not a great man.”
A candidate who does not build himself or herself oneself up by tearing another down. This only underscores the thinness of one’s character. There has to be someone who has the determination to show grace, resisting any and every temptation to demean the other.
A candidate who said something like this:
“I can’t do this alone. I am simply a politician. My effectiveness will only come by amassing a gifted team. By team, I am not thinking merely of those who form my cabinet, e.g. Secretaries of State, Labor, Defense, etc. This will be another group, every bit as vital, if not more so, in discerning what to do about Syria or Afghanistan or Iran or immigration or guns or the economy. Here’s who I will always have at my table, for otherwise it will be a house of cards—
-a historian who will help me to see into the future by looking into the past. Some call this the Janus effect. The greatest visionaries are the greatest historians. They understand the cycles of history, the movements of power. Should we engage in the Middle East? What happened to the British in Iraq, the Soviets in Afghanistan? How is it great powers collapse?
-a sociologist who will help me understand such things as tribalism, or how a shame and honor based society works. Someone who will point to the folly of decisions that do not take the time to understand how people relate, how cultures are different.
-an economist, who will help me determine such things as how one nation’s economy effects another. Someone who will ask—What will this decision truly cost? Can we afford to do this? What will it take to stop increasing the debt? What will it take to stop printing money, creating the illusion of wealth? How will this engagement we are considering effect the average family? (And seated next to him, a mathematician, who will ensure that we are honest with the numbers).
-close by, a theologian who will give caution to decisions until one has a better handle on the differences between such groups as Sunnis and Shias. More importantly, someone at the table with the gravitas to keep me from becoming full of myself, reminding me that God is the ruler of affairs. He turns the heart of a king (Pro 21:1). The right theologian will draw us to the kind of wisdom that we cannot attain on our own and call us to prayer, as well as remind us that whatever decisions are made must be motivated by both justice and mercy.
-an ethicist, who will properly frame good and bad conduct, underscoring that the end does not necessarily justify the means. What are the virtues that should guide us, the vices we must say no to? What is the world view driving a person’s, a nation’s behavior? What will ensure we do the right thing?
-a psychologist, who will help me discern such things as a leader’s posture, the cognitive distortions that drive people, the timing to either be forceful or gentle. Someone who can gauge the morale of a nation, the reasons for why people behave the way they do, and the kinds of decisions that lead to human flourishing.
-a futurist, who studies trends and has an uncanny ability to see around corners and develop scenarios that ensure the best decisions. Here’s what climate change means. Here are how robots are changing things.
Only after each voice has weighed in can a thoughtful decision be made.”
Finally, I look for a candidate who is everything in public that he/she is in private. Alan Simpson said it well: “If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters.” Great leaders do not lie to us because they do not lie to themselves.