Modes of Leadership

There is a form of ‘leadership’ in which a candidate (or elected official) attains a broad approval by catering to the public whim, often little more that a consensus of ignorance. Demagoguery is an effective tool for attaining office and power. There is a downside to gaining the world at the expense of your soul.

There is another style of leadership that is principled but ineffective in the short run. This involves a boldness and taking actions (or proposing actions) that go against current public opinion. Candidates and incumbents who take such positions tend to lose elections.

The third course demand great skills in persuasiveness and communication. This allows public opinion tome gradually modified.

Barry Goldwater employed the second mode and LBJ the first. Dishonesty produced a landslide victory for LBJ but honesty was never a quality associated with the person. His name is seldom invoked in any positive context while Goldwater is held in far greater esteem.

The intra-party differences between Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill seem to have followed a similar pattern but dire circumstances proved Churchill right and he triumphed in the court of public opinion in spite of post-victory humiliation.

The third mode of leadership proved effective for FDR in the area of foreign policy. He catered to the isolationist until the Folly of Munich began to be understood. He cleverly nudged public opinion towards an internationalism that seemed to have died with the end of the Wilson Administration.

There was an absence of leadership demonstrated during the Carter Administration, one that had been put in control by a narrow victory in an election that was more a repudiation of Nixon (who was not on the ballot) than an approval of the amorphous change associated with the Democrat.

Reagan followed with style of leadership akin to that of FDR. It worked and allowed the policy of containment begun by Truman to brought to fruition.

In the current race, the adulation associated with Obama provides an example of the first style of what passes for leadership and has an echo of Jimmy Carter. It is also a cult-of-personality candidacy in which the perceived charm of the candidate means more than the meager (but telling) record of past accomplishments and concrete goals. McCain needs to demonstrate an ability to communicate and persuade.

A lot hangs in the balance.


  1. McCain needs to demonstrate an ability to communicate and persuade.

    McCain needs to surround himself with “insulators”—- Those who he could appoint to buffer or strengthen his liabilities. Reagan, (during his first run) made a series of appointments to his “gang of leaders” that had impeccable credentials and made the average electorate sit up and take notice of the talent he was bringing on board with his administration-to-be. The list of support was impressive and it made voters feel like they were voting for a “load of strength” that the country needed at the time. I’m hoping McCain will see the need to put good minds together that will blow the children out of the race.

    As most always, nice post Art.

  2. [LBJ’s] name is seldom invoked in any positive context while Goldwater is held in far greater esteem.

    Not by those who remember Goldwater’s strident opposition to the civil rights legislation that LBJ pushed through Congress.

    To the extent that LBJ is vilified today, it’s mostly due to the war in Vietnam. Goldwater would hardly have been an improvement in that regard.

  3. “Bitter Scribe” misses the point (as is usual).

    Goldwater inspired a movement by his leadership and he was a proponent of liberty.

    How often does anyone do homage to the despicable crook LBJ? The scope of a fortune gained during a life of alleged ‘public service’ indicates that he wa on the take big time.

    The’civil rights’ attack on Goldwater dealt with his opposition to a piece of legislation that had some inherent flaws in spite of lofty goals. His personal record on this issue shows quite a different picture.

    Freedom was his flight plan.

  4. “His personal record”? What does that mean–some of his best friends were colored?

    He was a “proponent of liberty,” all right–the liberty of white people, especially in the South, to treat blacks like garbage.

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