Choosing a Leader
Each candidate brings to the race a particular set
of values, experiences, strengths and weaknesses, and leadership
style. In addition to assessing a candidate's issue positions, a
voter must consider whether the candidate would be able to implement
his or her ideas if he or she were elected president.
Reviewing the field of potential candidates or candidates, one sees many different leadership styles. Some are charismatic, big-picture visionaries able to deliver a rousing speech, some are skilled managers able to assemble a top notch team of people, and some revel in the details of policy. There are those who tend to surround themselves with aides, advisors and consultants who hold fairly similar views, while others seek out diversity of opinions.
A great deal of research has been done into leadership and there are
many different models and theories on what makes for an effective
leader and what prompts an individual to gravitate toward one candidate
another. One useful perspective is offered by Robert Deutsch, a
public communication anaylst and cognitive anthropologist.
Deutsch argues that a candidate must convey three attributes at the
same time. Familiarity
means we perceive the candidate is like us. Appeasement means we feel the
candidate cares for us as individuals. Power means we see the candidate as
being more than any one ordinary person; he or she is somehow in
control of events.
Conceptions of leadership may change over time or in different
cultures. Television has elevated the importance of external
appearances. Historically, a candidate's physical appearance had
some effect; for example it is recognized that taller candidates may
have an advantage. In the television era, it is important that
the candidate have no "edges" that will jar viewers or come across as
"too hot." Ability to speak in sound bites can trump laying out a
reasoned argument. The parties have at times selected
from the business world or the military, but that has not happened in
recent decades, and it seems as if voters want candidates with at least
a little experience in elective office. The 2008 campaign saw an
African American, an Hispanic and a woman candidate running for
president, breaking new ground.
A campaign organization is designed to present the candidate in the
best possible light, and it behooves the voter to look at information
from a variety of sources, including both favorable and unfavorable
views of the candidate.
A candidate's record offers a starting point for insights into his or her leadership style and ability. Has he or she demonstrated an ability to get things done or meet difficult challenges in his or her particular realm? A candidate's character ties in with the leadership question. Questions such as "Do I trust this guy?" (1) and "Is he stable?" weigh into a voter's decision-making. Traits such as courage, temperament, persistence, and wisdom are attributes linked to leadership. A president must be able set a direction and goals, but also have the ability to move the country in that direction and attain those goals; that may require working with an unfriendly Congress, negotiating with various interests, or tacking in one direction to get to a different direction.
The election campaign itself
provides an opportunity to
consider leadership. In a campaign there is a lot of chaff, minor
controversies that crop
up, charges and countercharges, stagecraft, packaging and
posturing. Looking carefully at how
a candidate organizes and conducts his
campaign can offer
further insights into his or her leadership abilities. Is he or
to stick to his or her position on a difficult issue, challenge voters
or think outside the box, or does he or she cling
tightly to party orthodoxy. At the same time, one can
also ask if the modern campaign, with its bevy of consultants, emphasis
on raising money,
and premium on sound bite politics, bears much connection to the type
leadership required from a president.
An incumbent president seeking re-election has an edge in conforming to the image of a leader because he is surrounded by the trappings of office. He arrives on Air Force I, he gets "Hail to the Chief" played, and he speaks from a lectern with the presidential seal on it. Incumbency can be an advantage for a president not only in terms of symbolism, but in the concrete actions he can take during the campaign to "buy" support. During the 1992 Fall campaign, for example, the Washington Post compared President George H.W. Bush to " a department store Santa Claus" and Detroit News writer James Gannon described "a flying fountain of federal aid."