We are the nation we are because giants have walked among us. America was founded by giants. Others have appeared since to guide us through crises or to great things: Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King. We have had leaders whose oratory has, sometimes in a single sentence, rallied the American people around their obligations of citizenship, the morality of equal rights, the spirit of exploration, and the compassion our blessed nation should show to those who have never known security or abundance.
Are giants walking among us today? Are any of them in the present field of presidential candidates?
Polls indicate that most Americans agree the current president has demonstrated some qualities we do not want in the White House. I’d like to offer an unabashedly old-fashioned and idealistic answer about the qualities we do want, drawn from the Presidential Climate Action Plan.
The candidates should promise a government as it should be: open, accountable, value-driven, forward-looking, principled, unifying, just and inclusive. The new Administration must reignite the nation’s genius for innovation and its sense of moral obligation to the nation’s future. It must bust barriers, invent incentives, set goals, and nurture the technologies and industries that are emerging to power a sustainable economy.
The President should cut red tape, practice the paradoxical principle of making government leaner to make it stronger, bring out the best in career civil servants by appointing America’s best people to lead them, and keep the bureaucracy attentive to the nation’s needs and nimble enough to respond.
The President must be the champion of equity and social justice as well as the CEO’s CEO. He must be uncommonly courageous, loyal to principle over politics, and committed to seeking wise counsel outside as well as inside the White House.
The President must have a strong spine and a good compass, thick skin and sensitivity to the people. He must be the leader not only of those who vote, but those who are disengaged, disenchanted or disenfranchised. He must guard the keys of government from special interests and make commitment to breaking the grip of powerful lobbies that would hold the nation back.
The President must be bullish on the future and skilled behind the bully pulpit. He must be a patriot and a citizen of the world, unafraid to ask a lot of the American people and willing for the American people to ask a lot of the President. He must be an evangelist for a revival of the American spirit. If we are to remain a great, secure and prosperous nation, this is the kind of leadership we need.
Joe Klein of Time has correctly called the current competition for the presidency the “Courage Primary.” In a recent issue, The Economist published an interview in which it asked former Sen. Bob Kerry: “Does America need a hero, a CEO or an iconoclast?”
I think America needs giants. We need them in business, in government and civil society, and in the Oval Office. We will watch in the months ahead to see if any of the candidates grows to that stature.