Saturday, January 27, 2007

Not ready for the Oval Office

Frank Rich, NYTimes, 1/28/2007:
“Mrs. Clinton has always been a follower of public opinion on the war, not a leader.”
This is nearly correct, except that she has been a follower not just on the war, but on nearly every issue to come before her.

Being a follower is the occupational hazard that comes of consciously positioning yourself as a centrist, rather than choosing your actions on the basis of principled stands.

A centrist, by definition, is aiming for affirmation from those in the center of the bell curve* on every issue in the crass attempt to maximize their support. In contrast, a leader’s appeal stems from their supporters’ perception of the leader’s underlying philosophy that resonates with their own, encompassing things like integrity and core values and respect for the intelligence of the populace.

A centrist tries to be all things to all people, but is reduced to being merely an empty shell to be filled with polling data. If that’s what we want for a President, we’d be better off building an automaton to crunch the numbers and spew forth policy based on consensus of polling data.

When we think of the great leaders in our history, did any of them cast themselves as centrists? Can anyone imagine Lincoln basing his Emancipation Proclamation on polling data?

Senator Clinton has not emerged as a leader, but only as a follower, particularly as regards Mideast policy. She was unwilling to take an unpopular position until the vast majority of the populace had adopted it on its own. She had ample opportunity to speak out against the war, but chose to remain silent, in what can only reflect either a willful ignorance of the reality of the situation, or an abysmal lack of courage to speak the truth. Either alternative demonstrates a profound lack of leadership.

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*Correction: Supporters of most issues are not described by bell curves, but by bimodal curves.

A “centrist” seeks out whatever region represents the most people, and so would be better described as an opportunist. There is rarely a true “center” ground to be found between the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ votes to be cast, and to portray oneself as a centrist is both disingenuous and an attempt to oversimplify complex issues.

Elections have been degraded into mere popularity contests, but I am sufficiently idealistic to believe that voters can still recognize true leaders (as opposed to poll-driven followers), if only they would appear.

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