Good Leadership, Part 3

Posted on January 17, 2016


In the equations of determining what a good leader is, sometimes one of the easiest and quickest ways to do so is by measuring past leaders, like, in our case, past presidents.

Remember we are directing out attention to “good leaders.” Bad leaders litter the field of history, from monsters such as Adolf Hitler to psychological misfits like the Emperor Nero of Roman times.

And throw in the mayor of Philadelphia Jim Kenney as an example of an incredibly bad leader although not malign or evil like Nero or Hitler, just plain stupid, and ideological.

A shooter named Edward Archer ambushed and shot a police officer while he was sitting in his patrol car last week in the City of Brotherly Love. The shooter confessed, citing ISIS as inspiration for the attack. The mayor, in a news conference the next day said Archer’s actions have “nothing to do with being a Muslim.” As one political candidate remarked, the Mayor was “delusional.”

That’s a kind assessment of not only mangling the truth but also blindly following the politically correct mantra of the President: do not associate the jihadists with the Muslim religion so as not to offend the Islamic world, and blame all the violence on guns.

So, thinking of Presidents, let’s examine them a bit.

Virtually every president wants to be remembered and judged by history as a great president. Even the dictators of the world, like Fidel Castro of Cuba, appeal to the supreme courts of civilization, historians, to judge them.

“History will absolve me!” he shouted out in a trial in 1953 for attacking an army barracks.

For historians, it’s nice to be in the driver’s seat occasionally. We are the judges. Okay, so it’s only retrospectively and usually long after power has seeped away from ex-presidents and dictators, but they still look to history for vindication.

Let’s take an example of a President virtually all judge as a good leader, with the adjectives climbing up to “great” in the opinion of many.

Franklin Roosevelt, who was elected four times beginning in 1932 meet two important criteria for a good president: he caught the mood, and anguish, of his fellow countrymen and tried to do something about it; and later, in the late 1930s and early 1940s he exercised wisdom and pushed for an agenda that went against much of public opinion.

His famous Inaugural address in March, 1933 is remembered largely for his phrasemaking. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

After boldly challenging his listeners to buckle up and face the future with hope and optimism, he closed all the banks two days later, stopped the run on the banks and moved into an innovative period of his presidency called the New Deal. Roosevelt acted, with decision and boldness to meet the devastating economic consequences of the Depression.

In the late 1930s, on the other hand, when it was becoming apparent that the rising Nazi regime of Adolph Hitler in German was bent on conquest and expansion, Roosevelt understood the threat and started to prepare Americans for war.

But Americans didn’t want war. An isolationist and neutrality psychology gripped most people. Most Americans thought that if the Europeans want to war over their old hatreds and jealousies, let them do it, we don’t want to have anything to do with it.

Roosevelt knew better. Any general European war would invariably involve the United States and we had to be prepared. And Japan was bent on conquest in China and the East, threatening our interests—the Philippine Islands and Hawaii for example—directly.

Roosevelt, against public opinion led by such celebrated Americans like Charles Lindberg who had captured the imagination of fellow Americans by his solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927, promoted the preparation of America for war, all the time having to work with an isolationist Congress and Republicans chomping at the bit to get back into power in the White House.

Roosevelt cajoled, persuaded, argued, compromised, and worked his political magic to prepare the nation.

When the surprise attack of December 7, 1941 flashed through the radios of the United States, we may have been surprised, but were not totally unprepared to shift from making cars to making tanks over the next twelve months.

That was great leadership by Roosevelt, an admixture of timing, wisdom, experience, boldness, and political acumen, plus an indomitable self-confidence that was not conceit or foolish pride but a confidence in one’s judgement that carried the day and the nation through the greatest war of the twentieth century.

Let’s return to the theme of leadership in future columns, and see how history has treated leaders such as Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Jack Kennedy, and others. You may be surprised how history has judged them as leaders.

Published Sunday January 17, 2016 in The Tuscaloosa News as Where Are Leaders Like Roosevelt?