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Who Is Going To Lead?

by Hayden Hollingsworth

From the day humans came to the realization survival depended on communal living, “who is going to lead,” must have been the first question the assembled group asked.  In the caves or on the savannah it was the strongest and the fastest.  Over many millennia the qualifications for leadership changed and planning replaced physical strength.  That’s when the trouble began.  It was not hard to decide who was the biggest and therefore the best; knowing who is the brightest is more difficult to determine.

Of all the forms of governance humans have tried every one has had major shortcomings.  In the Middle Ages the feudal system worked well for centuries until a more centralized rule was needed.  The kingdoms made their appearance and there was a period of The Benevolent Despot who soon added to their power The Divine Right of Kings and morphed into the Malevolent Despot.  Need we look farther than Libya or Iran for present day problems with tyrannical rulers?

Two and half centuries ago the experiment in democracy budded and has blossomed into some unexpected flowers.  In an address at Roanoke College, Joseph Bottum, a philosopher and writer, likened the emigration to North America as a Second Exodus . . .  a people fleeing the wrath of unfriendly rulers to a new Promised Land, the New Israel where we are The Chosen.  That’s an interesting Biblical comparison but one with which one might quarrel:  If some are chosen then some are not, a metaphysical concept that goes beyond what some are willing to accept.

When George Washington was chosen . . . who else could it have been . . . there was much discussion about what his title should be.  Predictably, there were those who favored “His Royal Highness;” much too European.  Others preferred “His Mightiness.”  Just as there are today, political wags would poke fun at President Washington and called him “His Rotundness.” Finally, calmer heads prevailed and they settled on “Mr. President.”  We are now in our 44th iteration of a chief executive; some have been totally forgettable; some have saved our nation.

A century and a half ago America came close to losing whatever ideals they had carried from the Constitutional Convention in 1787.  The Civil War had its beginnings long before the Declaration of Independence was penned, long before George Washington sat as our first President.  The question of slavery, of federal versus state power had been brewing for more than a hundred years.  The answer had been avoided and delayed for decades until it finally blew up into the worst war our country has ever seen.  More men and boys died between 1861 and 1865 than all the other wars of America combined . . . over 618,000.  We had leaders who guided the nation (and some who did not!) through those tumultuous times.

In The War To End All Wars we had Woodrow Wilson.  Seventeen years later we had Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt.  Since then one could argue endlessly about the quality of leadership we had in Korea, in Vietnam, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and now in Libya.  We have been monumentally inconsistent but we have also set alight fires that may lead to freedom.  Congressman Goodlatte once told me, when I was suggesting we might keep our national nose out of other nations’ business, that all of Western Europe now has some type of representative government.  Those democracies may look very different from ours, but the basic idea came from us, a consequence of World War II.

What is happening in North Africa and the Middle East today is an outgrowth of our idea of freedom.  How that will play out no one knows; for certain, it will not be quickly or easily done.

“So much depends on our leaders.  The President and Congress need all the help they can get.  The last weeks have not inspired much confidence.  Since January there has been more than enough petty bickering and name-calling.  They have argued endlessly over window dressing (actually a tiny window pane) in the Budget Building while the walls are threatening to crumble.

Lest we become too depressed about the whole thing, remember two quotes from Winston Churchill:  “Democracy is the worst possible form of government . . . except for all the rest.”  Additionally, “Americans can be counted upon to do the right thing . . . after they have exhausted all other possibilities.”

I hope he is right on both counts and our leaders will truly lead, not toward their own agendas and reelection but for the good of all people both here and abroad.

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