For my nickel, the singer pales in comparison to the singer songwriter. Oh, there are some amazing voices (folks like Frank Sinatra or Judy Collins or George Strait) able to interpret a song in ways that make you think it's theirs. But musicians like Springsteen or Lennon & McCartney are the folks who define music.
Why mention this in the same breath as politics?
It occurs to me that the current crop of presidential candidates is making the same play as American Idol contestants. They are competing on voice, personality, and their ability to interpret familiar standards like "rely on markets," "support our military," and "improve health care." They're singers, competing against one another on performance and song selection.
What seems missing is the politician who is actually a singer songwriter. Nobody would say that Johnny Cash or Bob Dylan had the kinds of voices that would win on American Idol, but they became icons because of the songs they wrote. Who in the current crop of politicians is promoting new policy in the way that an FDR once did? Who among the current crop might show more genius for policy formulation and philosophy than speeches? I suspect that there is so much voter ambivalence in part because voters have heard most of these songs before.
I'm ready for someone who transcends trade-offs and talks instead about how the confluence of events we find in this unique point of history has made possible something that the average voter hadn't previously thought of.
Leadership suggests at least two things. One, the person has followers. Two, the person is going somewhere those followers are not. Leadership is different from popularity. I'm ready for someone who talks about the art of possibility and doesn't just sing the same tired songs. Enough of choosing between great voices: I'm ready for new songs.