13 March 2007

Giuliani & McCain - Is Dignity as a Victim Enough to Make a Great Leader?

Giuliani and McCain are the two front-runners for the Republican nomination for president. They curiously share something more profound than multiple wives. They are honorable victims.

John McCain is a different kind of war hero. He didn't orchestrate the invasion of Europe and defeat of Hitler, as did Eisenhower. He didn't defeat the British, as did Washington or Jackson. McCain's distinction did not come from victory but came instead from his bravery as a prisoner of war. I'm not about to denigrate something as profound as his courage in the face of torture and years of captivity. In fact, I think that such an experience would give him unique qualities that would be valuable in a president. But it is worth noting that his distinction was not that of a traditional war hero. John McCain was a POW in a war that America either lost or withdrew from - depending on how you keep score.

Rudy Giuliani, too, is a different kind of political leader. Before 9-11, Giuliani's political career was largely over. His choice to date another woman while still married had compounded other problems he had with the public. Before he won approval for his handling of the crisis of 9-11, Giuliani's political career was largely over. It is worth noting that Giuliani, a former prosecutor, did not break a case that revealed the plan to attack the twin towers. He did not heroically stop the slaughter in the 11th hour. Rather, Giuliani distinguished himself by tirelessly attending funerals, rallying rescue workers, and helping the city to recover emotionally from a devastating blow. Again, as with McCain, this experience likely imbued him with certain qualities that would be favorable in a president. But note, once again, that Giuliani is a different kind of hero. He, too, was more victim than conqueror.

So, what does this say about our national psyche? We have two Republican front-runners who have distinguished themselves as honorable victims, not as heroes who defeated the bad guys. Have we reached a point when the American public is so defeatist about issues like terrorism, climate change, the erosion of civil rights, occupations from which we can’t extricate ourselves, and competition from outsourcing that we've lost our optimism and are now desperate to recover our honor, even if it is tainted with defeat?

If so, it makes sense to me for the first time why the junior senator from Illinois, a man with so little experience that he can't be judged, might have such widespread appeal. The audacity of hope indeed.


David said...

McCain is a hero given that he flew Navy fighter jets in combat but his unfortunate internment was not without some implied flaws and there's a group much like the Swift Boat dudes lining up to come forth if there is a need. I think your portrayal of Rudy is sound. My problem with your column is that you've selectively picked national issues and ommitted others of equal or greater consequence to which the young Senator Obama offers no hope whatsoever. I'm not sure I'd give him a high hope score on the ones you mentioned either. I don't think I can predict what any of these people will do anymore than I truly understand what they want to do. So maybe responding to crises effectively, given that it was dignified at least, is not a bad start for a president.

Ron Davison said...

Your comment about being unable to predict what they'll do given that you're not entirely sure who they are hits the mark. It took Obama and Clinton 24? 48? hours to disagree with the general who said that homosexuality is immoral. When you have to check with your advisers to learn what you think, it's going to be hard for people to predict your actions.