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|Old Photos Does Not a Country Make|
“You must admit that something’s not right when all of your heroes are in black and white.” These are not words etched in the stone of some magnificent statute. In fact, they come from the lyrics of a song by John Mayer. Not exactly a political source that would typically make someone stop and think, but in this case, it literally made me stop in my tracks. I have been spending a great deal of time wondering what happened to the great political leaders that our country has always been known for. It took Mr. Mayer to bring it full circle for me. What can I say? People are moved in many different ways. And regardless of the source, his words do speak the truth.
Think about it. Who is the last great political leader, of recent history in our country, that immediately comes to mind? You can’t hear me but I’m humming the Jeopardy theme. Take your time. Oh, there are plenty of great leaders that we can spout off but most of them fall well beyond that “recent history” caveat. Let’s say the last 50 years or so. Does that help or does that make it even more difficult? I love history, but this question is a bit of a stumper. And no, it is not a trick question. We actually know who is buried in Grant’s tomb but great political leaders in the last 50 years; that is a tough one.
I’ll throw one possibility out there. How about Ronald Reagan for conversational purposes? Some hardcore Democrats will never go for him, but for the most part, his achievements are recognized across the board. There is plenty of criticism of Reagan as well but he did leave office, fairly well respected, and remains today as the poster boy for the Republican party. And if not Reagan, then who? I’m all ears.
Who can the Democrats put up? They have had four presidents in the last 50 years. Johnson, Carter, Clinton and Obama. Crickets. Can you hear them? All four may have had some things that you may like, but great leaders….....hardly. And the Republicans; what have you got? Nixon, Reagan, two Bushes, what else? Again, obviously some things you liked about them and some great things that happened during their terms. But as a generally accepted example of a great leader from all sides……maybe not.
Let’s not forget the Libertarians. They have yet to put a President in the White House. Not only can I not think of a great political leader who happened to be a Libertarian, I have to strain to think of a Libertarian that I personally know at all. With all due respect, I know they’re out there, but a great political leader, that is a bit of a stretch.
In keeping with the times, what about the Tea Party movement? They claim to be the next great wave of great thinkers and political leaders based on an absolute devotion to the same Constitution that our really, really, great political leaders penned a few hundred years ago. Okay, makes sense to me. Any nominations to our survey? None come to mind for me. They claim to be about honest, transparent, personal liberty based governments. That is the criteria. I like that! I love that! The problem with the Tea Party is that they haven’t heard of a good idea since the Constitution was signed. It’s like my Dad says. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sooner or later. You would think that something good has been thought of since the big signing party. Last call for the Tea Party’s great political leaders. All righty then.
So where does that leave us? It leaves us where we started. With names like Washington, Lincoln, Adams, Franklin, two Adams, Jefferson and a Monroe. Add a couple of Roosevelts, Truman, Ike, and a guy named Kennedy. That pulls us up to 1963. What about since then? I’ll mention Reagan again and that concludes my informal gathering of great political leaders.
That means we are a bit scarce, except for the possible eight years by Reagan, since 1963; which was 49 years ago. I don’t know, maybe I’m crazy, but does anyone else think that this may have some bearing on where we find ourselves as a country. All great organizations start from the top. Unfortunately, the same holds true with all bad organizations. You may not like trickle-down economics but trickle-down leadership is a fact. We have made some great strides in the past 50 years, but I would submit in many cases it was despite our leaders; not because of them. As the old saying goes, “therein lies the problem.”
Surely, we are due for a bright leader to emerge any day now. We are in the kind of a drought that only Yogi Berra can fully understand. When that person does emerge, it must be one with the commitment, veracity, courage, knowledge, and for God’s sake… a little common sense, that our great leaders personified day in and day out. One that does not worry as much about moving their re-election bid forward as they do about moving the country forward. One that is not bent so far to one side or the other that their natural momentum can only move in circles rather than a straight forward motion; literally and figuratively. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask. But, where are they? Can you really say that the current slate fits that bill? You may say that it is the best that we have available, but is that really the level that we should strive for? There must be someone out there who is ready, willing and prepared to grab the bridle of the greatest country in the world. But so far, that mounting has not occurred.
Nostalgia and the recognition of greatness is a wonderful thing but not a great way to run our country. We’ve got plenty of great history; we now need a little concentration on our future. I refuse to believe that our nation’s earliest and greatest leaders were also our last. We all better hope that I am right. If I am wrong, we better get out the old black and whites and the old reel to reel footage. That apparently is the last bastion of where the great leaders now gather. A dusty and dire proposition if that indeed proves to be the case.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Stan L. Hall is the former (retired) director of the Victim Witness Program for the Gwinnett County District Attorney’s Office.
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