Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Characteristics of Great Leaders

Some have advocated that "giving power to any leader in the time of crisis" is a mistake. Images of Hitler and Mussolini are conjured to illustrate the danger of allowing a political leader to emerge and increase the power of government. While these two are poignant examples of the abuse of power that can occur, the mortal sins that will seal their fates probably don't include "I was given power in a time of crisis and increased the role of government." If so, then there are many others that will find a fire-side seat waiting for them.

An excellent, and often-cited, example of great leadership is Abraham Lincoln. Jacob S. recently posted about a book on the Civil War presidency, and I will direct you to a second book that further details the life and presidency of Lincoln. Much is said about the growth of President Lincoln, about his initial hesitation in leading a nation, about his sincerity, and about his self-doubt. One idea that persists, is that when Lincoln was faced with the single greatest internal challenge this country has ever seen, he rose to the occasion and led the country from the brink of disintegration.

First, when faced with economic distress of the north and impropriety on the part of the banks, he called on Congress to issue government-backed bond notes (Greenbacks) to cover labor and service to the United States. This action expanded the role of a central bank to issue national currency and resulted in one of the greatest economic and industrial expansions this country has seen. For example, a transcontinental railroad was established (Pacific Railroad Acts), provided for free public higher education (Morrill Land Grant Act), and consistently supported scientific research and founded the National Academy of Sciences (Act of Incorporation).

Second, he issued the emancipation proclamation. The long-term consequence of this policy wasn't just to end slavery. It in fact refocused political power to the central government - the federal law outlined in the proclamation overruled that at a state level, allowing the federal government to establish rules and regulations that affect the entire nation. In addition, it set up the federal government as the humanitarian watch dog of the citizenship. Before Lincoln, individual states had the right to decide on the legality of slavery.

Lincoln was a leader that was given power in a time of national crisis, and he centralized economic power of the government, increased government control of the private sector, increased taxes (first ever income tax), and increased the role of government in nearly every aspect of the economy: medicine, industry, banking, and manufacturing.

According to the criteria listed at the beginning of this post and elsewhere, Lincoln has a seat at Satan's dinner table. In contrast to that belief, I feel that Lincoln's performance in a time of national crisis was essential to the survival of the country. He did not abuse his power. He did strengthen a nation.

Alongside Lincoln rightfully stand other great power-in-time-of crisis leaders that increased the power of the central government: Thomas Jefferson (established a Federal Republic), James Madison (drafted the Virgina Plan), Franklin Roosevelt (New Deal), and John F. Kennedy (Federal Grants).

If all of the action Obama has proposed actually comes to fruition, he will not have done 1/100 as much as Lincoln, and others, to expand the role of central government. If Obama's proposals are successful, then I believe it can aid in returning the United States to a position of industrial, scientific, and moral leadership. He has not (so far) abused his power, and he has strengthened a nation.

I am in no way claiming that all increases in federal government are good. I only want to point out that not all increases in federal government are bad. Let me be very clear on this - a significant number of policies that have increased the power of the federal government have been imperative to the progress of our country. I feel many (I didn't say all) of the recent policies of the Obama administration continue in this vein.


Doug said...

Shawn O.,
Another president to recall in your list of power-in-time-of crisis leaders is Woodrow Wilson. He asked for and received near dictatorial powers from Congress when attacks by Germany against American ships and submarines plunged the nation into World War I. He had to raise and equip a large army to fight on foreign soil. To do so, he demanded and received unprecedented new power and authority.
In 2004, PBS’ Frontline featured a program called “The Choice 2004” just prior to the presidential election of that year. Additional information provided online includes a feature entitled: “What Makes a Good President?” ( Included in this feature are five analyses and checklists citing certain leadership qualities that they conclude make for success or failure in the Oval Office. Fred I. Greenstein, an Emeritus Professor of Political Science at Princeton University, identifies 6 leadership qualities that bear on presidential performance ( These six criteria are: Public communication, organizational capacity, political skill, vision, cognitive style, and emotional intelligence. Greenstein concludes with this: “presidential experiences point to the following moral: Beware the presidential contender who lacks emotional intelligence. In its absence all else may turn to ashes.” So far, in considering this list of criteria as they relate to Pres. Obama, he the potential to be a special kind of leader in the challenging times we face. Check out this article and the other’s featured.

Byron said...

You are right. Abe was a hell of a president. I particularly like this quote:

"You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift.
You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong
You cannot help the poor man by destroying the rich.
You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred.
You cannot build character and courage by taking away man's initiative and independence.
You cannot help small men by tearing down big men.
You cannot lift the wage earner by pulling down the wage payer.
You cannot keep out of trouble by spending more than your income.
You cannot establish security on borrowed money.
You cannot help men permanently by doing for them what they will not do for themselves."

-Abraham Lincoln

Randall said...

This is off topic because there is no topic of this on which to post. So here it is.


We keep running into this issue where you represent the church’s position about something in a way that seems completely incompatible with almost everything I have heard or read the church say.

As an exercise, I am going to select one of these issues. I am going to list the structure of the position I know the church to have, and I want you to agree with the statement, disagree with the statement, or convince me that that statement is not the view of the church. Please be highly specific on the exact “quote” that causes you to believe that one of the statements is absolutely not the position of the church.

As a lawyer, you can appreciate the structure of this exercise. I would say it is something of a deposition.

Topic Homosexuality

Note: I have read the same material that you have that the church acknowledges that there may be a biological component in the tendency toward the potential of homosexual impulses. That given these are the statements I am challenging you to confront directly.

In each case I am confident that nearly all “liberals” will disagree with the statement and that the church supports the statements. Address them directly point by point.

1. The act of homosexuality is an egregious sin. The Church is very clear that the practice of homosexuality is a sin, a serious one. It is against the law of chastity and a person engaged in such behavior may not enter a temple, go on a mission, or have a position of leadership in the church, because it is sinful, wrong, and immoral. Homosexuality as a practice is wrong, bad, and evil.
2. All homosexual sex will always be a sin because it is outside of the boundaries of marriage; and the church will never recognize homosexual marriage. So by definition, all homosexual sex will always be sinful.
3. Homosexuality cannot be the basis of an eternal union and is inconsistent with the Church’s notion of family.
4. Pervasive homosexuality in a society is evidence of its moral decline and its moral unsustainability. It is, as a point of fact, that it was predatory homosexual behavior that led God to completely destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Old Testament. Homosexuality had become so pervasive that the angels from heaven were lusted after from the “gay community” of Sodom and Gomorrah.
5. Normalizing homosexuality destabilizes traditional concepts of gender and family, and a civilization which encourages the normalization of this practice will bring upon itself the wrath of God (that is almost a direct quote from the Proclamation to the World)

Now, I think that you will avoid confronting these 5 statements directly. I think you will give some soft-spoken opinion, mix in a couple quotes you had to search really deep to get from the church, and try to avoid them.

I think you will do that because if you accept the statement, you are operating against the liberals, if you deny the statement, then you are opposing the church in print, and if you say the church doesn’t agree with the statement the burden of proof, as I’m sure your aware of at some level, is not on your side.

So lets see if you accept the challenge. If you avoid it will come back again and again.

Other topics of future “depositions” abortion, the sexual revolution, drugs, euthanasia, eugenics, etc.

Good Luck

Shawn O. said...

Doug, thanks for the heads up on the two frontline links. I've preoccupied with some other things, but was really glad I took the time to read them.