Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Presidential Leadership, Ronald Reagan, and Chris Christie

The media are buzzing around like bumblebees in springtime, floating from flower to flower as we prepare for the next presidential election.  Many media elites have fawned over Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney for much of the year while speculating about other possible entrants in the GOP field.  When Texas Gov. Rick Perry officially threw his hat in the ring in August, the media painted a bullseye on his back, as did his fellow candidates when early polls showed him leading the pack.  After a little more than six weeks of scrutinizing his record and three relatively miserable debate performances, the media are looking elsewhere for the new savior of the GOP.  Apparently, so are many of the movers and shakers in the Republican Party as well as the party rank and file.  The new darling of the media and the party seems to be New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.  Why?  One clear reason is because he is an unknown quantity.  He has very little baggage since he has been governor of NJ for only about 21 months.  He is also a decent speaker, appeals to the Reagan wing of the party, and is not an ideologue.  He believes in solving problems rather than kicking the can down the road.  He believes that leaders do not look to the polls to figure out what to do.  Leaders change the polls by persuading the people that their proposals are the right way to solve a problem.  Leaders don't preclude opposition ideas, they incorporate them into a solution that can garner bipartisan support and address the problem.

In many ways, I think, that attitude is lacking in many of our elected officials today.  They are so self-centered and focused on preserving their careers by getting reelected that they fail to be frank with their constituents.  Rather then educating the people about the right course of action they fall back on ideological conviction, even when that conviction will lead to disaster.

There are two primary theories regarding the role of the representative and what his function ought to be in a democracy.  The first argues that elected officials are delegates sent to enact the people's will, whatever that means.  How does one discern the people's will?  Exactly which people are we referring to?  Is it even possible to determine what the will of the people truly is?  Is it the fraction of the people who are motivated enough to get off their couches and turn off X-Factor and go vote?  Is it the silent majority who don't vote?  Is it the people who contribute money to political campaigns?  Is it the tiny core of activists in each party that are not representative of the party as a whole?  The delegate model of representation requires the elected official to know what this will is and to act accordingly or suffer the consequences.  This is the model preferred by the Tea-Party.

The second model of representation is that popularized by the conservative Edmund Burke in the 18th century.  We call it the trustee model.  Burke argued that the representative is not merely the instrument of the people sent forth to do their will.  Rather, the representative was sent forth to use all the talent and education he possessed to deliberate over every course of action and choose the one he thought best for the nation, though it might conflict with the immediate interests of his local constituency.  It was, Burke surmised, the job of the representative to persuade the people that his course of action was the right one.  This was the leadership style of Ronald Reagan and, I think, why historians rank him among the top 10 presidents in history.  It is also what made Franklin Roosevelt a great leader.  NJ Governor Chris Christie appears to be a Burkean as well.  Perhaps it will one day lead him to be our next great president.  If you haven't watched it yet, the following link is to the speech he delivered at the Ronald Reagan Library on September 27, 2011.

No comments:

Post a Comment