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We Need a Leader, Not a Manager

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It seems to me we've lost sight of something important in the past few years about what the President's appropriate role is in our society. We seem to have shifted our attention from concepts of leadership to concepts of managerial skill and experience. It seems clear to me that, now more than ever, we need someone who can lead the nation rather than someone who can manage a bureaucracy. Leaders hire managers.

At least in our local press, there's been a lot of commentary of late on the "resumes" of the various candidates for the White House. The questions arise mostly from Republicans who bemoan the fact that, in their view, none of the Democratic candidates left in the field has any real "executive experience", i.e., as a governor or mayor. (I'll ignore for the moment the fact that the only real Democrat in the race, Dennis Kucinich, does in fact have substantial mayoral experience.) These people claim what we need is proven experience in economics, diplomacy, and organizational management. In other words, they want to see us elect a competent bureaucrat.

I'm not sure that is good advice at any time. In our current historical cross-current, it is not only not good advice, it's horrendous advice that shows no depth of thought. No one person could be sufficiently expert in all aspects of leading this nation right now that he or she could overcome the unimaginable burdens of an illegal and unpopular war, an economy spiraling rapidly toward recession, a fatally flawed health care system, an education enterprise that is fundamentally broken, and global climate change that is perilously close to ending the human race. These are Big Issues whose solutions require management expertise only after a broad, overarching philosophical framework for their solution is in place and accepted by the majority.

In short, this is a time for a leader, not a manager.

While a clear definition of the word "leadership" is elusive at best, it is likely we can all agree on two characteristics. First, a leader must have followers. In the case of the President, he must have sufficient followers to get elected and then to govern. While we have traditionally thought that this meant he had to have majority support, I think as we emerge into an era of greater pluralism it may be more accurate to suggest the President ought to command respect and support from a plurality. Second, a leader must be inspirational. In other words, he must be able to motivate his followers to do the things he sees the nation as needing. Those are two characteristics that cannot be delegated. Nearly everything else can either be delegated or at least shared.

When I look at the current crop of candidates, I see true leaders capable of uniting the nation behind their inspirational vision only in Dennis Kucinich, John Edwards, Barack Obama, Ron Paul, and Mike Huckabee. Hillary Clinton and John McCain are too divisive to garner support by a substantial plurality of our citizenry. John McCain is not only divisive within his own party, he is not an inspirational thinker or speaker. Rudy Giuliani is a joke in his own city and has demonstrated a complete inability to create a vision that isn't labeled "9/11".

I don't agree with Mssrs. Paul and Huckabee and my mind's not yet made up on Obama, but any of these people could lead the nation effectively. And they could all hire highly competent specialists to manage specific aspects of their administrations.
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Dan Shafer is a long-time technology writer, political commentator and sports fanatic who has been on the Web since before it was called that and who has one of the longest-running blogs. A long-time liberal activist, Dan has recently begun turning (more...)
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