“Public opinion is a lagging indicator.”

. . . said Charles Krauthammer on TV today. He is right.

That’s one reason why weak surfers of public opinion like the Clintons should not be leaders. Effective leaders must be able to lead, which by definition means taking unpopular positions, based on nothing more than principle, some of the time, when the stakes are high. Lincoln did it. Churchill did it. FDR did it (on the war). Reagan did it. Bush Jr. did it and continues to do it.

Who among the current presidential candidates is capable of holding and defending unpopular positions for long periods when necessary? I don’t know if any of the Democrats can do it. Among the Republicans, I think Giuliani can do it. McCain: who knows. Romney and Thompson: maybe.

From the standpoint of leadership, Giuliani vs. any Democrat may be all the choice we need.

20 thoughts on ““Public opinion is a lagging indicator.””

  1. I suspect our best leaders did care what others thought; they just had a much wider time frame in mind. You can sense their eyes looking out beyond their time in their speeches and their choices. That was certainly true of Washington, who always wanted to retain the respect of others but believed that was better bought with his own integrity (not wanting to die in office is a remarkable thought for a leader).

    It could be that Bush was just kicking the can down the road when he made the choices he did on cloning – but he also knew where the more promising research was going on. I don’t feel strongly about this but I did feel that, knowing how strongly some of my friends felt, he was making a good choice. I saw the reactions on Reason’s blog, etc. But I suspect he felt it was better to be called an anti-intellectual who had a fundamentalist’s disdain for science than to choose a road that was not necessarily productive and would set unfortunate precedents. Perhaps, as the latest studies indicate, he may have been right. Not because he knew the science but because he was trying to gauge today by a broader horizon than his opponent’s. I think he did care what people thought, but part of “people” are those who will be affected after we are dead by the precedents set now.

  2. Yes and no. It depends on the type of information. ‘

    When it comes to foreign policy, information is more concentrated and leaders may have better information about conditions than the general electorate. On the other hand, when people vote, they seem to have a better collective assessment of the economy than experts.

    Honest, we simply don’t know what information that Presidents or other leaders work from. We read a news story or two on a subject in the paper and they spend dozens of hours pouring over major policy in detail. You see a similar effect in people trying to judge the performance of corporate officers.

  3. Leadership is the ability to win converts to the right cause. Any moron can stick to unpopular causes against either mounting evidence or public dismay. By that measure, George W. Bush is an abject failure. Has anyone in our lifetime turned more voters off to conservatism?

    Bush diehards should at least ask themselves why none of the GOP candidates for 2008 are willing to even say Bush’s name in public.

    Bush’s obstinancy worked very, very well until things in Iraq ended up exactly where his liberal critics said they were headed. He’s totally lost credibility now among everyone but those who support him solely on ideological grounds. How can anyone describe that as leadership?

  4. People who still support Bush. You want names? Admittedly, they’re scarce, but they do exist. I get a sense Jonathan is one, but not sure.

    And the idea that Giuliani has held onto unpopular opinions is wildly at odds with the facts. On immigration, gay rights, abortion and other key GOP “cultural” issues, he’s been a liberal all his life. Now he’s running away from those positions as fast as he can, merely because they’re unpopular with Republican primary voters.

  5. Bush has many flaws, one of the worst of which has been his inability to argue effectively for his war policies. However, he has been willing to stick with the course that he thought was right, and it seems to me that he will deserve most of the credit for any successes that we achieve in Iraq and in these early days of the war against radical Islam.

    I dislike Giuliani but he appears to have some of the same leadership qualities as does Bush. Maybe one or more of the other candidates does too, but it’s not evident and this is an area where I don’t think it’s wise for voters to take chances.

    And yes, Giuliani has changed his message to please primary voters. I’m sure that none of the other candidates would do that.

    Elections are about selecting the lesser of evils, not about seeking truth or purity.

    It’s interesting that one need only argue that Bush is not a complete failure to be accused of being a “Bush diehard.” Your use of this trope suggests that you are more interested in trolling than in discussing the topic at hand. Perhaps you will explain to us which of Giuliani’s competitors has superior leadership qualities.

  6. I’m not sure where Jonathan thinks he’s going with the assertion that Bush did a poor job of sellng the war. Perhaps he could be more specific?

    I’m sure both he and Tatyana will agree that Bush did a fabulous job of selling the invasion of Iraq. Hillary Clinton bought it like sliced bread, as did most Democrats. The media–including the NY Times–bought into it, lock, stock and WMD. On the eve of the invasion, Bush’s popularity was near record levels, not far below its stratospheric heights to which the 9/11 attacks had brought it.

    Perhaps Jonathan’s lament is that Bush has failed to ask for any sacrifices in terms of

    [Remainder of long, trolling post deleted. In case it’s not obvious, “Jack Schwager” is a frequent troll here.]

  7. Jack Schwager has convinced me! I will not, under any circumstances, vote for George Bush in the coming election. To me it looks, at this point, that Jonathan has it pegged. The only candidate I can see with demonstrated leadership qualities is Guliani.

  8. Jack Schwager,

    Jonathan means that he feels that Bush has not sold the rational, goals and methods to the general public. Most of general public still does not understand the Bush doctrine. For example, about a third of the population, whether they agree with the war or not, believe that we invaded Iraq in retaliation for Saddam’s involvement for 9/11. Over half believe that we invaded because Bush argued that Saddam was on the brink of acquiring nuclear weapons and so others. Many others where surprised when Bush concentrated on building Iraq democracy etc.

    On the other hand, we look back at the great leaders of the past and their voices seem so strong and clear only because we know they turned out right in the end. During their day, they fought to make their voices heard above the great roar of routine political dialog. During their day, the words that history judges as profound and great often left nothing but a ripple. The Gettysburg address and the emancipation proclamation were not hailed as great statements at the time they were made. Only after the civil war was won did people look back on the Gettysburg address as a great statement of American values and determination.

    People trash active leaders because it is to their short term, immediate political benefit to do so. Once Bush leaves office the reevaluation will begin just as it did with Reagan. If we succeed in Iraq, 20 years from now people will look back on Bush as great leader who spoke with simple in simple terms but with great courage and vision. His 2003 State of the Union address may become one of the canonical speeches of American foreign policy.

  9. Here are some attributes a US President should have (considerable overlap with the attributes a corporate CEO should have, although the weightings are different)….

    1)Strategic Insight…able to understand emerging issues before they come up and smack you in the face.
    2)Courage and sense of reality…willingness to deal with critical issues rather than just put a patch on them and kick the can down the road for someone else to deal with later (yeah, I know, mixed metaphor)
    3)Executive ability…ability to actually get things done. Policy wonks, as a class, do not understand the ifferene between identifying X as a good thing and actually causing X to happen.
    4)Sales ability…ability to successfully communicate why things need to get done or not done. Ability to sell to the general public and to sell to political insiders may differ significantly.
    5)Leadership ability…inspire belief in the importance of the nation as a contining entity, and willingness to look at issues from that standpoint.

  10. Great presidents have risen to a major disruption–civil war, world war, depression etc and led the nation. Bush is by no means a great president. The nation by and large given the polls finds him a disaster. The War in Iraq wrong; the budget deficit; inarticulateness, and on and on. This is not merely my view but rather the view from the public when polled. Not by chnce that GOP folks running for office in an-year posted signs without the GOP name on them.
    Katrina and 9/11 were clear indications o9of his failure as a leader.

  11. Joe Hill said “The nation by and large given the polls finds him a disaster. ”

    Joe, what part of Shannon’s comment about the ignorance of the general public re. the situations in Iraq didn’t you understand?

  12. Joe, To have a dialogue one must address in ones own mind (and then in print, in this case) what other people have said. Otherwise what you write appears as mindless cant.

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