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America's leadership crisis

A plague on each Republican candidate

By Dr. Grace Vuoto
Sept.16, 2011


The last two debates have revealed that each Republican candidate has at least one major deficiency; not one has the whole package of brains, knowledge, guts, experience, virtue and unbending conviction.

A nation in decline breeds mediocre leaders—which in turn precipitates further decline. Can we arrest this downward spiral?

There is an eerie parallel to 1930s Europe. Then, as now, the West was gripped in a prolonged economic crisis. And the quality of leaders was also poor. During World War I, the best and brightest marched headlong into battle, convinced the war would be short and glorious. Instead, a long, bitter contest of attrition ensued. The very brave and talented who would otherwise become the leaders of their respective nations perished in 1914-1918. Those who survived World War I would aptly be called ‘the lost generation.’ They were the mediocrities left behind. They had weak and ineffective responses to the challenges their nations faced in the 1920s and 1930s, especially in Britain and France.

Today, in America, there is also a poverty of leadership. Our exceptional men and women did not die in the battlefields; they were killed off in the classroom, devoured before they could even dream of national ascendancy.

By the 1980s, both higher education and elementary school became infected by a new theory: great men do not exist; there are only large, impersonal forces that create dramatic change. In essence, the “great man theory of history” was deposed. Previously, textbooks brimmed with the stories of individuals who could transform nations due to their exceptional skill, courage and virtue. No more, said the new history books: there are no great men who can bend events to their will against all odds; only the right economic and political ‘forces’ converge to bring about change.

This is the Marxist theory of history: change is the result of the dialect; forces that oppose one another in an inevitable, historical progression leading to a communist utopia. Leading scholars depicted the great man theory of history as unscientific, simplistic and passé. The new scholars also lampooned the theory as elitist. They insisted that change does not emerge from the top, trickling downward: change occurs from the bottom up. Hence, the working class, minorities, women—all the previously ignored groups—were in fact the key engine of social and political transformation.

The new theory of history quickly dominated academia and percolated into the textbooks. The great men died at the hands of the fashionable scholars who considered their intellect to be greater than the heroic deeds of previous men of action.

As a result, those educated in the last four decades do not know what greatness is. Our current leaders—on both the left and the right—are a dim shadow of those of past generations. History books were scrubbed clean of the remarkable models of the past, leaving the present generation standing alone: all the fathers and grandfathers that could lead the way have been obliterated. There is only the self, growing and struggling, in an impoverished and diminished culture.

This brings us to the current dismal, depressing Republican field. Here we see clearly that the truly great men have vanished—at the moment we need one desperately.

On the peripheries of this primary contest are former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and former Utah Gov. John Huntsman, both of whose campaigns have not caught fire: they have 2 percent and 1 percent support, respectively. In addition, American businessman Herman Cain, while eloquent and likeable, has no governing experience.

The nation is in little mood for on-the-job training. Tea Party favorite and Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann has extensive knowledge, is passionate and principled but also lacks executive experience.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul has conviction and learning, has held his seat since 1997 and is a leading national voice of libertarian ideas—many of which are compelling in an era of mammoth government that is stifling citizen initiative. However, his isolationist foreign policy is out of touch with the needs of a superpower in a global age.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has years of political, media and policy experience, is a brilliant debater and has the best intellect of the current field, but is tarred by his three marriages—including adultery with current wife, Callista, and others. Also, he is more effective at thinking than leading, as evidenced by the coups against him by his own party members in the 1990s.


There are only two viable contenders among the current crop. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has executive experience, is knowledgeable and intelligent, and has an impeccable reputation as a family man. But, he is widely perceived as a slick operator, willing to tailor his convictions to the vagaries of the moment. In addition, he is the architect of RomneyCare that was the prototype of ObamaCare. His theatrical attempts to distance himself from ObamaCare only reinforce the perception that he is as slippery as a wet plastic bag.

And finally, the three-term Gov. of Texas Rick Perry, and instant frontrunner, is now the GOP trendsetter. He has extensive executive experience and a solid record as a fiscal and social conservative. He is folksy and engaging on the campaign trail and has moments of high oratory.

However, the two debates have revealed he is not very learned; his knowledge of even the policies he steered into law appears thin. Moreover, it is unclear whether he has the moral authority to lead: there are charges surfacing of crony capitalism and that he expanded, even overstepped his executive authority as governor of Texas. This belies his patriotism and commitment to small government.

In addition, he appears unable to grasp first principles and the contradictions of his arguments: when asked why he supported in-state tuition for illegal immigrants he said the state should not discriminate against the young based on “the sound of their last name.” The very same tough-on-crime, law-and-order governor who in the first debate boldly justified the state’s execution of over 200 criminals in the last ten years, fails to see that privileges granted to illegal aliens contravenes order and justice. His defense of his executive order to vaccinate young girls against HPV also rings hollow; he erred on the side of life, he said. Indeed, he behaved in the same manner as those big-government advocates who tout their superior knowledge as essential to the wellbeing of citizens.

In short, the current field of GOP candidates lacks any truly great man or great woman who has all the qualities that are needed to restore the republic. Our Founding Fathers, who were indeed Great Men, must be sobbing at the crop of leaders we have now spawned. And it is no wonder: When we took great men out of the history books, we cast the U.S. down the dark road of a nation of small folk grappling with ever-bigger problems.

Regardless of who wins the nomination—and the presidency—it is clear Americans face a long period of being led by those who are dwarfed by the magnitude of the nation’s woes.

-Dr. Grace Vuoto is the Executive Director of the Edmund Burke Institute for American Renewal.