Real Leaders Actually Say Something

I conduct a significant portion of business over the phone or email. In some cases, I never actually meet my clients in person. And for the times, I do end up meeting a client in person, I’m always a little bit surprised. This idea got me thinking about expectations based on appearance versus actual ability.

We now live in a time that we know when a presidential candidate gets a $400 haircut, or hear speculation that the female candidate had some “work” done. I’m utterly baffled by this turn of events. And I believe this focus on the completely trivial has made it incredibly easy for anyone in authority, politics or otherwise, to gloss over the issues. I wonder how political campaigns would be handled if all you ever heard were candidates’ voices.

In 1933, Americans elected Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Presidency. He served until his death in 1945. At the time of his election, Roosevelt was paralyzed from the waist down for over 10 years. In part, Roosevelt was able to camouflage his condition because “at the time…private lives of public figures were subject to less scrutiny than they are today.”(link) He also learned to walk short distances with the support of braces and a cane. If his condition became common knowledge, in spite of Roosevelt’s belief that he was getting better, I have my doubts that he’d have been elected to three terms. So what would we have missed? Roosevelt’s leadership during some of the darkest days in U.S. history.

After entering office, Roosevelt continued many of Hoover’s depression-relief programs, and implemented some of his own (Social Security and the minimum wage to name two):

The point in history at which we stand is full of promise and danger. The world will either move forward toward unity and widely shared prosperity – or it will move apart. (link)

Then came the attack on Pearl Harbor:

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan…No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.(link to full text and audio file)

Roosevelt actually sounds like a leader. You can follow what he says, and what he says sounds coherent and logical.

Little Substance

Today’s politicians, and most other public figures too, are so caught up in the image that they pay no attention to the substance. I listened to a small portion of the Republican debate from last night on C-SPAN radio and was astounded at how little the answers actually addressed the question. For example, debate moderator Wolf Blizter of CNN asked each of the candidates if they’d pardon Scooter Libby, just a yes or no answer please. In theory, there should only be 10 lines of text, a yes or a no from each candidate. Here was the response (you’ll see it’s more than 10 lines):


MR. GILMORE: No. I’m steeped in the law. I wouldn’t do that.

REP. HUNTER: No, not without reading the transcript.

MR. HUCKABEE: Not without reading the transcript.

SEN. MCCAIN: He’s going through an appeal process. We’ve got to see what happens here.

MR. GIULIANI: I think the sentence was way out of line. I mean, the sentence was grossly excessive in a situation in which at the beginning, the prosecutor knew who the leak was —

MR. BLITZER: So yes or no, would you pardon him?

MR. GIULIANI: — and he knew a crime wasn’t committed. I recommended over a thousand pardons to President Reagan when I was associate attorney general. I would see if it fit the criteria for pardon. I’d wait for the appeal. I think what the judge did today argues more in favor of a pardon —

MR. BLITZER: Thank you.

MR. GIULIANI: — because this is excessive punishment —

MR. BLITZER: All right.

MR. GIULIANI: — when you consider — I’ve prosecuted 5,000 cases —

MR. BLITZER: I’m trying to get a yes or no. (Laughter.)

MR. GIULIANI: Well, this is a very important issue. This is a very, very important — a man’s life is at stake. And the reality is, this is an incomprehensible situation. They knew who the leak was —

MR. : Say, Wolf, can I explain — (off mike) —

MR. GIULIANI: — and ultimately, there was no underlying crime involved.

MR. BLITZER: All right.

MR. ROMNEY: This is one of those situations where I go back to my record as governor. I didn’t pardon anybody as governor because I didn’t want to overturn a jury.

But in this case, you have a prosecutor who clearly abused prosecutorial discretion by going after somebody when he already knew that the source of the leak was Richard Armitage. He’d been told that. So HE went on a political vendetta.

MR. BLITZER: So is that a yes?

MR. ROMNEY: It’s worth looking at that. I will study it very closely, if I’m lucky enough to be president, and I’d keep that option open.

MR. BLITZER: Senator?

SEN. BROWNBACK: Yes. The basic crime here didn’t happen.

MR. BLITZER: All right.

SEN. BROWNBACK: What they were saying was that the identity of an agent was revealed —

MR. BLITZER: Governor?

SEN. BROWNBACK: — but that agent has to be in the field for that to be a crime. That didn’t occur.

MR. BLITZER: Governor?

MR. THOMPSON: Bill Clinton committed perjury in a grand jury — lost his law license. Scooter Libby got 30 months. To me, it’s not fair at all. But I would make sure the appeal was done properly, and then I would examine the record.

MR. BLITZER: Congressman?



All right. We heard from all of them. (Applause.) (link)

Reps. Paul and Tancredo, admittedly second-tier candidates, were the only ones who actually said yes or no. Everyone else felt the need to explain, and those who did, didn’t do it very well.

Who Would You Vote For?

This blog is all about the words. So if you had to base your decision on the words of the candidates, not their looks, their flair for shaking hands, their Hollywood hair, who would you vote for? Who’s words matter the most to you? Who represents what you really believe? I suspect Congress, and Washington in general, would look a lot different if we actually paid attention to what they said rather than how they looked when they said it. Unfortunately a line from The American President says it all:

You’ve said it a million times: If there were a television set in every living room 60 years ago, this country does not elect a man in a wheelchair. (link)

What great leaders are we overlooking because we wouldn’t mistake them for a movie star?



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June 2007
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