In my last post, 'Is being Great all that good?', I pointed to the dangers inherent in promoting or electing candidates for their great qualities alone, rather than for what makes them fit for office, which I think has to begin with demonstrating an understanding of the nature and purpose of the office they're seeking to be elected to. In this post I'll take a high level view, through one local example, at the sort of arguments that follow when a candidacy does not begin from the beginning, leaving its supporters to substitute the personal inspiration they feel for their candidate's 'great qualities', for the relevant substance which the candidates have not provided themselves. Over the next couple posts we'll look in more detail at the patterns which the inspired defender will often fall into, in order to defend what isn't there - an absence of substance which itself inspires a particular pattern of defense.
And this quote captures the sort of 'inspired substitute substance' that I'm talking about:
"I want a transformational leader who inspires common people like me to become better versions of ourselves. And the only candidate in the race who can inspire greatness in the people he touches is Eric Grietens."[BTW Bill, the candidate's name is misspelled]That was not some MSNBC host frothing on about the thrill running up his leg, this statement came from Bill Hennessy, one of the original founders and instigators of the St. Louis Tea Party, the grassroots organization which formed around the popular demand that congress "Read the Bill!" rather than mindlessly peddle absurdities such as "You have to pass it to find out what's in it". The St. Louis Tea Party Coalition was one of the most effective Tea Party's in the nation at raising issues of limited government and individual rights to the national attention, which I had the honor to play a small part in, and whose theme, at that time anyway, could easily have been expressed as constitutionally limited govt over swallowing sight unseen the solutions being peddled by transformational leaders of the left or the right.
That Bill Hennessy was someone I never expected to see saying such things. This post is one I'm not enjoying writing, but that quote above is representative of the tenor of what he's been posting since Eric Greitens announced his interest in running for the Governor of Missouri, and Bill, as we'll see in a moment, has taken the rhetoric beyond what I can simply ignore.
When you hear about Eric Greitens, you can't help but be impressed, he's a former Navy SEAL, a Rhodes Scholar, he has a deep interest in, and familiarity with, classics of history and philosophy (you know that pegged my interest meter), a self made man, philanthropist, successful author (I just finished reading his "Heart and Fist" - I recommend it), college professor, motivational speaker, and the list goes on. The first time I heard about Eric Greitens was as he was announcing his intention to consider running for governor earlier this year. I read Bill's post on it, and the articles it linked to, and I too was much impressed, but unfortunately before that inspiration could take root, my next thoughts were:
"I wonder what his thoughts and positions on Individual Rights, Law & Govt policy are?", and the inspiration faltered in me as I tried hunting around on the web for specifics about his ideas on such things, and it withered away as I found nothing of the sort, only more and more instances of 'Happy Talk' about how really impressive a guy he is. He is impressive, that much is a given, no argument there at all, but that doesn't make the argument for electing him to office. Despite how impressive he is as a person, as a candidate, if your political positions, and your demonstrated understanding and commitment to the principles behind them, aren't impressive in themselves, then neither will you be, as a candidate for high office.
If you care about what's true, about first principles, that's the way it has to work. And what's even harder, and I've really experienced just how much harder in working on these posts, is how hard it is not to fall into the same patterns in your responses to the faults you've found in others. And it's also difficult, particularly in personal and political issues, to not see that person you've found fault in as having base and dishonest motives for the wrong things you've found them saying. As you'll see in a moment, one of Bill's posts set me off, pegged my fury meter, and my responses to it have got me watching myself more closely. My first response I deleted. The second one too. This post I've revised several times, trying to take that non-objective edge out of it and focus more on what is universal in the danger of being led by 'greatness', than the particulars of the faults I see here (how successfully remains to be seen... your mileage may vary).
I haven't been 'toning it down' out of some silly 'must be nice' mockery of manners, but because I think you really do miss out on the more significant points, when you assume the worst (and that 'assuming' is part of the pattern). Far tougher, and frankly far scarier, is what you see when you presume that those who've drawn your ire, have done so with the very best of intentions. And your response to them, IMH (and heavily revised)O, is improved and clarified by approaching it from that perspective.
Not that that perspective will make me pull my punches, it's just that I see the value in throwing them at my own points too, before they get a chance to make it to print.
The lack of political substance which Eric Greitens has made available regarding the political office he's seeking, is concerning to me. Why? Because as media savvy as this fellow is, as experienced a leader as he is, as seemingly centered around empowering people as he is, he has somehow lacked the foresight to assemble and make available even an overview of the policies he intends to implement, or of the political principles that will guide his use of power once in office, etc. Nothing. Nada.
Why? I don't know, and that's the problem, for the fact that he chose not to do the obvious, I find concerning.
There were rumors from the start about his democrat leanings, which at that time were still only rumors (though he later confirmed them), and there were still other troubling issues left to be discovered by those, like me, who should have been his base, such as his endorsement of President Obama's "Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act" (which fits in with conservative ideas... how?), as well as other issues and unknowns about information that was known to the candidate. Information which he had to know would cause confusion and dissension amongst those whose support he'd want and need, and yet he chose to do nothing to proactively manage it. Is that an example of the exemplary political leadership that I should be inspired by? Or evidence of a blind spot the candidate doesn't realize he has?
There were (and still are) lots of questions unanswered, but