Electing Great Leaders

In Columns by Hal PetersonLeave a Comment

The jacket cover for Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book “The Bully Pulpit” – Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, reads in part as follows:

During the years 1890-1920, “the gap between rich and poor has never been wider….legislative stalemate paralyzes the country….corporations resist federal regulations….spectacular mergers produce giant companies….the influence of money in politics deepens…bombs explode in crowed street…small wars proliferate far from our shores, and a dizzying array of inventions speeds the pace of daily life.”

The downtrodden, and the middle class are all caught in a vortex of situations they had no control over. The rich and powerful controlled the essentials of life amassing fortunes, while those in elected office were more than happy to share in the bounty. Goodwin’s assessment, the nation was “becoming un-seamed,” and the need for reform begged for attention.

Theodore Roosevelt replaces President William McKinley in 1901; and, thanks (in part) to the “muckraking” writings of Jack London, Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair, Ray Stannard Baker, Lincoln Steffens, William Allen White, and mercurial S.S. McClure, (publisher of McClure’s Magazine) the avarice that dominated the times was successfully addressed. Roosevelt wins’ the election in 1904. A Progressive Era emerges.

In my opinion, Ronald Reagan compares favorably to Theodore Roosevelt in all the basic metrics. Both were Republican conservatives, highly motivated skilled orators, prior governors’, and political agitators’ who successfully re-energized the nation and restored confidence in our system of government. The term “bully pulpit” was coined by Roosevelt, and served him well. Equally so, Regan’s hosting of the General Electric Theater (starting in 1954) honed his conservative political views reaching thousands of TV viewers for some eight years across the Nation.

Reagan was succeeded by two Republican, and two Democratic presidents. I have a suggestion for her next book title. “The Regressive Era.  An Examination of Presidential Leadership after Ronald Reagan’s Two Terms in Office.” The cover jacket could read: “The golden age of journalism has been compromised, serious problems are not being addressed no less fulfilled, the middle class has lost any influence it may have had, social reform rules the day, corruption flourishes, the legislative process is frozen in time, respect for authority is nil, and assimilation is just another word; and yes, bombs continue to explode in crowed street’s…small wars proliferate far from our shores, and a dizzying array of inventions speeds the pace of daily life.”

So! In closing I’ll share with you two observations made by President Obama in the course of a recent interview held with Doris Kearns Goodwin:

Obama – Looking back “I do think that there has been a degree of venom and viciousness and anger that has been unleashed in our national politics that is qualitatively different in at least our modern history.

Goodwin: Why do you think happened?

Obama: “It’s a combination of things. Political gerrymandering makes the incentive for most members of Congress to play to the extremes of their base rather to the center. The Balkanization of the media means no one is having a single conversation with a single set of agreed-upon facts the way we had as recently as the 90’s. The influence of not big money, but dark money, the collapse of party structures” all have                                contributed to what we are witnessing today.

I’ll add, our system of government is broken, with inertia the operative word. Will this change? Not likely, as long as we allow insincere political operatives to rule the day. Good leaders are needed today. Are there any “Teddy’s” or “Ronnie’s” out there? Perhaps Doris Kearns Goodwin can sort this all out. It’s beyond my pay grade.



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