Here in the United States, the inauguration of our next president is a year away, and the Republican primary season is in full swing. Journalists and pundits dissect the candidates’ every speech, appearance, and debate, analyzing what they did right or wrong, and who is waxing and waning in the polls. These talking heads, along with the people watching and listening to them at home, evaluate the candidates on who seems the most “authentic,” had the best line of the evening, or released the hardest-hitting advertisement. The whole thing can oftentimes seem more like a sport or entertaining sideshow than the lead-up to an important election.
So what should the more serious-minded citizen be looking for in the next leader of the free world? What criteria beyond hair and quips might a man use to evaluate and judge candidates for office, or those already in office?
Opinions will certainly differ on such a significant and pressing question. But while I was in college, I was introduced to an excellent yardstick for measuring our leaders, one that has stuck with me ever since.
It was there I took a couple of courses with Dr. J. Rufus Fears, professor of an incredibly manly subject: the history of freedom. One of the things the good professor emphasized to us captivated students was that a politician and a statesman are not the same thing. A statesman, Fears argues, is not a tyrant; he is the free leader of a free people and he must possess four critical qualities:
- A bedrock of principles
- A moral compass
- A vision
- The ability to build a consensus to achieve that vision
Let us now explore these four criteria of a democratic statesman in greater depth.
1. A Bedrock of Principles
The statesman builds his platform on a foundation of firm, unchanging, fundamental truths. These are the things he believes at his very core, his overarching philosophy. Just as in the foundation of a house, storms may buffet the structure, opposition and challenges may arise, times will change, but the foundation remains. A statesman may change the details of his policies and his methods for achieving those policies, but only inasmuch as those short-term tactics of expediency serve the purpose of furthering his bedrock of principles in the long run.
2. A Moral Compass
Dr. Fears argues that the modern politician makes decisions by using “antennae.” He puts his feelers out there to gauge the public mood. Once he figures out which way the wind is blowing, he then shapes himself and his message to give the people exactly what they want. But as Dr. Fears would hammer home again and again to us: A statesman does not govern by public opinion polls.
No, the true statesman makes his decisions by following the dictates of his own moral compass. He is not a relativist; he believes in absolute truths, and his moral compass is rooted in a sense of absolute right and absolute wrong. When something is wrong, he plainly says it is wrong and does everything in his power to fight against it. When something is right, he is willing to overcome any opposition to preserve and spread it. The statesman is ambitious – he must be to obtain a position of power – but there are things he simply will and will not do to get to the top. He is a man of integrity; he speaks the truth. He leads by moral authority and represents all that is best in his countrymen.
3. A Vision
A statesman has a clear vision of what his country and his people can become. He knows where he wants to take them and what it will take to get there.
Fears argues that a statesman’s foresight is one of his most important qualities, as he must be able to recognize problems on the horizon and be able to come up with solutions that are good not only for the short-term, but for the long-term as well. The statesman keeps in mind not only the here and now, but the world future generations will inherit.