By Sam Waltz
Is society better served by “career public servants” – ahem, “career politicians” – or does the citizen statesman better serve it?
Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (519-430BC) is held up as the prototypical example of the latter. A Roman aristocrat and statesman, he was called to serve Rome as a dictator to defeat rival tribes. Two weeks later, after his victory, he resigned the dictatorship.
George Washington’s farewell address, his letter to the American people declining a third term after his service as a Revolutionary War general and America’s first president, is often regarded as the American equivalent, occurring in 1796, at a time when many of his countrymen wanted to proclaim him as a monarch.
And June 15 is the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede, where King John of England surrendered some first-ever republican authority to 25 nobles, effectively setting the stage for the broad principles of self-government enjoyed by many Western powers.
The lust for power – sometimes coupled with the lust for wealth – can corrupt leaders who otherwise meant well, we’ve all been taught. A generation of books and films make that point.
“The Man Who Would be King” (1975, with Sean Connery & Michael Caine), based on Rudyard Kipling’s short story of the same name, arguably one of the most under-appreciated films of the last half century, makes that point when Connery finds himself in a position to save a primitive society by his leadership.
Even “The Candidate” (1972, with Robert Redford) makes a similar point in the American electoral process.
Hence, it’s an area of vulnerability that opponents to Hillary Clinton’s bid to succeed Barack Obama as America’s next president will bring focus to. Their focus is on not only her role as co-president with her husband Bill Clinton – “You get two for the price of one,” he used to tell voters – but her leverage of that and her tenure as secretary of state into wealth beyond the dreams of most Americans after she said she left the White House “broke.”
Carly Fiorina, the first woman to lead a top Fortune 50 company as its CEO, took that point of attack May 30 in her remarks before Delaware’s Republican convention.
“82 percent of Americans believe we have a professional political class that is more focused on what they’re doing than what we’re doing,” Fiorina told the cheering crowd.
In fact, Fiorina laid at the feet of the “professional political class” ownership of America’s churning divisions into disaffection with all politics, Republican and Democrat.
“People feel a disquiet, not just from the disconnect they feel between themselves and their political classes, but a disquiet because they feel we’re losing something,” she said. “We’re losing the power of limitless achievement. We have a government that has become so big, so powerful, so inept, and, unfortunately, in too many instances, so corrupt.
“The size and power of this government is literally crushing the potential of this nation,” she said. “We are destroying more businesses than we’re creating.”
She continued on to flail Clinton for the usual variety of issues, leveraging her government service for personal wealth building, not handling conflicts between public and personal interests well and refusing to take questions from the news media that would tend to build accountability and flesh out her positions.
Public attitudes – as reflected by Fiorina’s point-of-the-spear comments – are validated in a recent poll by Patrick Caddell. The poll focused on Republicans, but reflected broad attitudes of alienation about leaders in both parties, and it appears to indict career Republican politicians as much as career Democrat politicians.
Cadell said 69 percent of people polled supported the statement: “The power of ordinary people to control our country is getting weaker every day, as political leaders on both sides fight to protect their power and privilege, at the expense of the nation’s well-being.”
He said 64 percent agreed with the statement:
“Political leaders are more interested in protecting their power and privilege than doing what is right for the country.”
And, in the May poll, Caddell reported that more than half of even Republican voters did not give their own elected GOP leadership favorable marks, something that tends to support the concept of improved standing for any candidate who works to “run from the outside,” as Fiorina certainly is doing.