Where are the statesmen?
Where are the statesmanlike leaders who stand tall above the rest? The men and women who call for duty, honor and country, who proclaim it’s about “not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”, who say “give me liberty or give me death”.
Over the past few decades, men and women who would stand up for their convictions for the right reasons and put country first have virtually disappeared. There is no more statesmanship, no one who stands more on principle and less on politics.
Men like Reagan, MLK, Walt Disney, Bob Hope, John Kennedy, Churchill, Gandhi. Women like Margaret Thatcher, Mother Teresa and Golda Meir.
Politics in America — and even in the world — have been reduced to a shouting match of demeaning one-liners and one upsmanship zingers. There are few visionaries left, few who will sit down to have a meaningful conversation.
No, this isn’t about Republicans and Democrats, conservatives or liberals, and it’s certainly not about personalities and it’s not about the current president so many are determined to use as an excuse.
It’s about leadership, integrity and character. It’s about taking a stand for right, no matter where the chips may fall. There is literally zilch in our political system today and it’s been developing for decades. It’s why the U.S. Congress has one of the lowest approval ratings of any institution in the country.
“Statesmen should remember that they have been elected to persuade and to lead, and not just to accept as fixed the momentary moods and pernicious prejudices of the public.” ~ Stanley Hoffmann.
No one stands up for truth. No one leads the way. No one takes the road that is best for Americans.
There are many examples in history — even recent history — of politicians being ardent opponents on policy, yet working across the aisles and maintaining a more fervent friendship. And it hasn’t been so long ago.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia were friends and had civil discussions despite their widely disparate views on the law. Scalia said: “If you can’t disagree ardently with your colleagues about some issues of law and yet personally still be friends, get another job, for Pete’s sake.”
Then there was Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill. Polar opposites on the political scale, but they got much done as politicians who were more concerned about moving the country forward than moving their agendas forward.
Sens. Orrin Hatch (R) and Ted Kennedy (D) fought tooth and toenail on ideas and legislation, but they remained close friends and even managed to pass laws together.
Former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush built a strong friendship and found common ground for common good despite opposing political realities.
Today more than ever, no one is interested in a civil, constructive conversation that will lead to a constructive dialogue that can open avenues of productivity rather than demeaning, destructive name-calling and personal demagoguery.
It’s not about compromise, it’s about the conversation. It’s not about giving up convictions and personal agendas, it’s about listening to others and having mutual respect and consideration.
Sadly, this political repartee has spread to the American heartland, from the city council and school board rooms to the state legislatures. And, now it has spilt over into our churches, our volunteer organizations and has made its way into our dining room tables at Thanksgiving.
And it is never more evident than in our media, which is trusted almost as little as Congress and other institutions. Few institutions, organizations and systems in our country have a more advocacy-based agenda than the media in today’s America.
There are no more Walter Cronkites, Harry Reasoners, Edward R. Murrows, David Brinkleys or Ted Koppels. (Google ’em!) Today’s “newsman” is driven by bias and entertainment and by how insulting he or she can be.
Where are the statesmen? Where are the leaders? Where are the men and women who will say “Enough is enough!” William Penn said: “Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.”
It’s time for someone to stand on the right side regardless of what they lose politically.
Honestly, though, it won’t start at the top. It won’t start at the White House, in the halls of Congress or even the negotiating table in Geneva.
The true conversation between “statesmen” will begin in your living room, across the aisle at your church, around the water cooler at your office and over dinner with a friend who sees the world differently than you.
The real conversation begins when you stop talking and you start listening. And when you have a mutual respect, understanding and consideration for someone with polar opposite viewpoints.
And that’s where the seed of change will begin, in those small moments that nurture the real ideas and philosophies that can change a world, one conversation, one human being at a time.