Where have all the leaders gone, long time passing?


Willy Brandt, Spiegel magazine cover, December, 1970
Willy Brandt (1913–92), German statesman; chancellor of West Germany 1969–74;, Brandt achieved international recognition for his policy of détente and the opening of relations with the countries of the Eastern bloc (Ostpolitik). Nobel Peace Prize (1971).
Image: 7 December 1970, Willy Brandt kneels down at the monument to the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto.

It seems to me, in my naive view of the past, that there was a time when politics was as much about principle as it was about winning.  I grew up on my grandfather’s politics, politics based on a few simple principles – states’ rights and individual liberty.  Before every election he campaigned for candidates that best represented his views.  My grandfather thought we all had a obligation to be involved in the process, just as we had a right to vote for the candidate of our choice.  He did not want his candidate to lose, but he only wanted him to win if he was true to my grandfather’s beliefs.  Winning never trumped principle in his mind.

In 2012, there are still some candidates who have no realistic chance to be elected, but run to represent a set of politics beliefs or principles;  Ron Paul comes to mind.  But as the real election gets closer, those people disappear – except the ones who continue on as third party candidates – and the race becomes more about winning than principle. The major parties parties find firm principle positions untenable and will bend a little, or a lot, to broaden their base and win an election.  The Republican party has not yet had to make many compromises, it does not yet have a candidate; that leaves each of the four still in the race free to be true to some set of principles.  Three of the candidates are fighting to be the “true right” the “true conservative” the “true Republican.”   The fourth candidate, Romney is the most populist of the candidates; he has the broadest values of any of the candidates in the race.  He wants to win, not to be right.

The president and his party are in another category – they know who the Democratic Party candidate for the presidency will be, the sitting president, Barack Obama.  Both the party and the man want to win, they want to appeal to the largest segment of the population that they can, and offend the smallest number of people.  And they want money for the campaign from everyone and every organization – and that now includes the infamous super PACs.  Until very recently, President Obama clearly said he would not take that tainted money, but now he will.  The party faithful are couching the change in policy – principle, if you will – in terms of realpolitck – “They are doing it,  so we must too.  If we don’t, we will be fighting with one had tied behind our backs.  Don’t take a knife to a gun fight.”  That is simply rationalization – if all of the time in history prior to February 2012, taking money (or actually not taking it, but allowing to be spent on your behalf) from super-PACs was wrong, then it is still wrong.  What are the limits of “we have to fight they way they fight?” Hastened that been one of complaints about the super PACs – they fight dirty?  The negative – dirty, if you will –  media campaigns thus far have been funded, not be the candidates directly, but by their surrogates – the PACs.  What was campaign finance reform about anyway?

There was an article in Der Spiegel a week or two ago, bemoaning the lack of leadership in Germany.  Der Spiegel wonder where the country would ever again find the likes of Willy Brandt.  In times like these I find myself wondering the same thing – where will we find true leaders – people of principle and vision, who stand up for those principles and offer the electorate a vision, a noble of vision of a worthy future.  The vision might not appeal to everybody, then those people would vote for another vision, another candidate.  It seems to me that major elections are all “do or die battles” – one must win, regardless of the methods employed, the winning is the thing.  Would I rather lose an election than win it by violating my principles?  Yes – your party only really wins if it wins based on the principles and vision you endorse.

I think I will write my grandfather’s name in for president of the United States in November – the other people running simply do not represent my values.


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