Monday, June 27, 2011

Studies in leadership

Walter Russel Mead's blog post about Al Gore is less interesting to me in its particular message - that Gore must step down for the global-warming movement to succeed - than in the general leadership principle espoused therein. Mead notes:
Not all character flaws are inconsistent with positions of great dignity... But while some forms of inconsistency or even hypocrisy can be combined with public leadership, others cannot be. A television preacher can eat too many french fries, watch too much cheesy TV and neglect his kids in the quest for global fame. But he cannot indulge in drug fueled trysts with male prostitutes while preaching conservative Christian doctrine. The head of Mothers Against Drunk Driving cannot be convicted of driving while under the influence. The head of the IRS cannot be a tax cheat. The most visible leader of the world’s green movement cannot live a life of conspicuous consumption, spewing far more carbon into the atmosphere than almost all of those he castigates for their wasteful ways. Mr. Top Green can’t also be a carbon pig.

You can be a leading environmentalist and fail to pay all of your taxes. You can be a leading environmentalist and be unkind to your aged mother. You can be a leading environmentalist and squeeze the toothpaste tube from the middle, park in the handicapped spots at the mall or scribble angry marginal notes in library books. But you cannot be a leading environmentalist who hopes to lead the general public into a long and difficult struggle for sacrifice and fundamental change if your own conduct is so flagrantly inconsistent with the green gospel you profess. If the heart of your message is that the peril of climate change is so imminent and so overwhelming that the entire political and social system of the world must change, now, you cannot fly on private jets. You cannot own multiple mansions. You cannot even become enormously rich investing in companies that will profit if the policies you advocate are put into place.
Mr Gore's leadership, the apotheosis of elitism, is also the antithesis of Jesus' prescribed form of leadership: to become a servant. Think of the difference between Gore and another Democrat who lost a presidential election, Jimmy Carter. Despite Carter's failed presidency and odd opinions, he has made himself a credible advocate for the poor and maintained a public voice for three decades.

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