The World Needs Fewer Politicians and More Leaders

So many lessons from the forefathers of America, on choosing the right men for public office, has long been forgotten.

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Image credit: American Forefathers by Tim on Flickr

“No system of government was ever so ill-devised that, under proper men, it wouldn’t work well enough.”

The English founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, said that in 1693.

And indeed he is so right.

10,000 years of human history later, we still fight wars over political ideology; as if settling on the right system of government alone can guarantee human society the justice and prosperity we all seek.

That is so wrong.

Democracy alone is not a magic pill for good governance. In fact, countries with elections often end up filling their public offices with politicians instead of leaders.

Because to be elected today means having to play the popularity game and having enough funding to afford masterful propaganda.

The results of electing such men are: Bureaucracy that leads to feet-dragging and compromises, missed opportunities to do the right thing, and time wasted over selfish power struggles.

To turn this around we must learn to identify candidates that are true leaders, and not mere politicians and bureaucrats.

Such men share a few common characteristics.

“A new race of men is springing up to govern the nation; they are the hunters after popularity, men ambitious, not of the honor so much as of the profits of office…”

— Joseph Story, American Judge, 1779–1845

Democratic elections with limited office terms have a big downside: Leaders often take a short term view of what they should do to get into office and what they can do while in office.

Because there is the need to get elected (and re-elected), the pressure to echo popular views and pursue popular policies is tremendous.

But ultimately it would serve voters better to consider the ones who dare to preach unpopular stances—something that might involve adjustment pains for the average citizen, but ultimately strives for longer and broader good.

Leaders see the right path to take, and persuade men to follow them on it. Politicians see the popular path to take, and persuade men they are headed that way too.

“Sir, I would rather be right than be President”

— Henry Clay, American statesman, 1777–1852

A true leader seeks to develop a consensus on making the best choice possible by convincing people it is the wisest choice. Even if his followers disagree, they would still trust that their leader has their interests at heart and would support him trying.

A compromise on the other hand, is a way to move forward with reductions on both sides just so that differing views can be pandered to without hurting egos or self-interest.

Leaders believe in their choices and take responsibility for their failures. Politicians sway with the winds to remain popular and point to responsibility elsewhere when things go wrong.

“One man with courage makes a majority.”

— Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States, 1767–1845

Numbers do not result in a better decision when it comes to government. It is better to be led by one good man, then to be governed by a system full of squabbling fools.

“The very essence of a free government consists in considering offices as public trusts, bestowed for the good of the country, and not for the benefit of an individual or a party.” — John Caldwell Calhoun, American Statesman, 1782–1850

Public service is exactly what the term itself implies.

You serve the public.

There is nothing wrong with making a comfortable living being a politician or civil servant.

But to be drawn towards public service due to hopes of great wealth, and in so doing derives it from office, is public disservice!

A leader who truly seeks to serve may be already successful in his existing career by conventional measures. But if you examine his life and his endeavors carefully, he would not have been motivated solely by profits or glory.

He would have had a passion for doing something greater than himself; or making a difference in a cause he believed in.

Any man who spent his entire life focused solely on success as it pertained to his fame or bank account is probably a bad choice for public office.

“I have no ambition to govern men. It is a painful and thankless office.”

— Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States, 1743–1826

In fact, sometimes the best choice for a leader is the one who is the most reluctant to lead. In public service that is often true — because that implies you are not drawn to it because of the influence and wealth it could bring.

But such leaders often heed the public calling only in times of crisis — when society is in desperate need of men who can actually lead.

In times of peace, when all is smooth sailing, public office often attracts the ambitious who seek influence and the limelight.

Today the world faces unprecedented challenges, to all of humanity — climate change, clean water, poverty, pandemics… the list is long.

We need leaders, individuals with integrity, with sights set beyond just a few years in positions of power, to keep society from tipping over the edge.

Public office is a responsibility bestowed on individuals who have put themselves forward to guide the people they serve, not please them. They should be reminded that they are being paid by citizens who have entrusted their future to them, not by the rich who funded their campaigns and seeking favors in return.

Otherwise, government and public office will become nothing more than what a more recent U.S. President described it to be.

“I used to say politics was the second oldest profession, and I have come to know that it bears a gross similarity to the first.”

— Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States, 1911- 2004

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