Presidential Leadership Lessons

This post was originally shared as part of my contribution to the Pope John Paul II High School February Family Newsletter.

While Presidents’ Day honors our presidents of the past, millions of Americans are watching closely to gather information to decide who will be our nation’s next president, taking office in about eleven months. During the slings and arrows of a campaign, it is at times difficult to find real leadership while the candidates hurl outrageous insults and astounding claims back and forth. It is difficult to hear real solutions to America’s problems amidst the noise.

With my sophomore students in AP US Government class, we are watching this election closely. I try to stress that politics is a noble profession, and service to our nation as an elected official, chosen by the people, is a high calling. Again, sometimes the nonsense on the campaign trail on both sides of the aisle makes this claim difficult to prove.

During our observance of Presidents’ Day this month, maybe the best places for our students to look for examples of leadership and character can be found by looking back at those who once held the nation’s highest office, as opposed those who aspire to it.

From Ronald Reagan, our students can learn lessons about clear communication, as Reagan delivered a clear, concise message that connected with and inspired millions of Americans.

From John Kennedy, our students can learn that every generation must answer the call to leadership when summoned, as Kennedy inspired an entire generation with a call to service.

From Franklin Roosevelt, our students can learn that personal struggles such as disability can be overcome, conquering one’s own physical frailties to as Roosevelt led our nation to victory in a worldwide war.

From Theodore Roosevelt, our students can learn lessons that a life lived with enthusiasm and vigor, is a life lived well, emerging from the depths of personal tragedy as Roosevelt promulgated bold, progressive ideas of a new American Century.

From Abraham Lincoln, our students can learn that surrounding oneself with brilliant people, even former adversaries, promote collaboration and problem solving, as Lincoln saved our nation from a bitter civil war while emancipating thousands from slavery.

As our students keep a close eye on the present and move toward the future, they can a lesson or two from the talented, yet flawed men we remember on Presidents’ Day, men who once occupied the White House and allowed the drumbeat of our nation to continue on, regardless of the challenges it faced.

Governor Romney and President Obama: Our Children Are Watching

      Almost eight months ago, my 10 year old daughter and I journeyed to New Hampshire the weekend before the Republican Primary.  My purpose at the time, aside from spending time with my daughter, was to immerse her in the political process.  To let her experience democracy in action, real retail, personalized politics.  I wanted her to see the politics is about the people and not just the personalities.  I wanted her to see civilty triumph.

We experienced just that.  In addition to meeting the good people of New Hampshire, we attended a Mitt Romney rally, sat in the front row of round table discussion featuring Rick Santorum, and were trampled by the media at a Jon Huntsman diner appearance.  We even happened by an Occupy New Hampshire commune and watched Ron Paul’s patriots parade on horseback through downtown Manchester.  It certainly was a learning experience.

As Mitt Romney prepares to accept his party’s nomination tonight, I think back to his rally at Pinkerton Academy in Derry.  At the time, I tweeted about the “inevitability” of his nomination so his ascension is not of surprise (I didn’t exactly go out on a limb with this tweet, of course).  I also think back to my wish for my daughter.  As this campaign moves forward, this is not just a wish for my daughter, it is also a wish for my students.

My wish for my daughter, all three of my daughters actually, and for my students, is for this campaign to be a true exercise in democracy, a true campaign for the people.  Is it too much to ask for this campaign to be about real issues?  Is it too much to ask for this campaign to be about the people?  Is it too much to ask for politics to be a noble profession and the discourse it produces be civil?

I fear I know the answer already and I fear for the future.  A future generation of America’s leaders is watching this exercise in democracy and is not seeing our nation’s leaders at their best.  The issues are too great and the dialogue too destructive.  Chasm replaces compromise.  Big money muddies the waters.  The Republicans are wrapping up their sideshow this evening and the Democrats will run out their dog and pony show next week.  Neither charade will do any good for our nation.

Maybe as the balloons deflate and the confetti is swept away, the dialogue will improve.  Maybe as the leaves fall, civility will triumph.  I hope so.  Our children are watching.