Monday, February 18, 2008

Realism vs. Idealism

I've been having a stimulating discussion with a colleague about the merits of realistic leaders versus idealists. Here is my most recent response... a beginning look to why I choose Obama.

Re: Idealist vs. Realist Leaders

Thanks again for the fantastic response to our Wednesday discussion. First, I want to say that I believe that my original statement was not that idealists have made the greatest leaders in history. Rather, I said that idealists have been the people who have gotten things done. Semantics, perhaps, but I think it makes quite a bit of difference to my argument.

As I wrote in my previous, brief email, I do believe that many bad leaders, like Bush, have been idealists. But, you can’t argue that he hasn’t done anything. He just hasn’t done much that I agree with.

Really, I think, the motive behind my statement was the idea that if people don’t attempt something that nobody thinks is possible, then things will always remain the same…

To me, a realist says, “Well, what can I do? The ‘system’ is such that I can’t make a difference.” Whereas, an idealist says, “I have ideas, and even though I’m just one person, I’m sure that I can find others who will support me. To hell with the status quo! If not me, then who?”

Would you say that Washington, Franklin, Madison, Jefferson, etc. were not idealists? Sure, they met and made plans and crafted documents to establish this new republic that they dreamed of, but would anything have happened if they hadn’t dreamed in the first place? Who would have thought it possible that the American colonists could not only start a fight for independence against the British, but then manage to win and put together a country that stands among the strongest in the world 200 years later?

Rousseau, Voltaire, Montesquieu… again, idealists who hoped for an end to absolutism, who hoped to create governments in which the people had a voice. And sure, their ideas were just that, ideas, but they inspired revolutions across Europe and Latin America. It’s true that Robespierre and Napoleon, both idealists, caused a lot of bloodshed, perhaps making them poor leaders, but they sure did get things done.

I’d say another great idealist was Bobby Kennedy. I believe this country would be in a far different place today if he had survived and won the election. Looking at that same time period, what about Martin Luther King, Jr.?

So, perhaps, a great leader needs a bit of a mix between the two – a strong sense of idealism and hope, with her/his feet grounded in knowing what it takes to actually make things happen.

So then back to the argument at hand, Clinton vs. Obama. Realist vs. Idealist. Sure, Clinton has put forth plans and knows what it takes to work the system in Washington, but that’s not exactly what I’m looking for. Blame it on my youth, but I want the system itself to change. That’s my beef, I suppose, with Clinton’s experience. To me, it’s experience in working with the same-old, the status quo. Additionally, her plans won’t mean much if she can’t get Congress to work together and support her.

Obama says he wants to change the way things work in Washington, and I believe him. He has plans, too. Are they as detailed and laid-out as Clinton’s? I don’t know. He did put forth a 64-page “Blueprint for Change.” But, you can’t say he doesn’t have experience. He’s been in politics since he entered the Illinois state legislature in 1995. So actually, he’s held a government position for longer than Hillary. Yes, she was first lady, both in Arkansas and the White House, but she’s only been a US Senator for 4 years longer than Obama. Neither one of them has run the Oval Office before. Nor had George Washington, for that matter.

Hillary sounds pretty good when she speaks, to a Democrat, at least. But some 45% of the country or so claim to “hate that bitch.” Not a good start to getting things done in this country. Another credit I give to Obama. He inspires people and, I think, is therefore better able to unite people. Republicans like him! I've been told by red Republicans that if Obama wins the nomination, for the first time ever they will vote for a Democrat for President. The best laid plans can never work if you can’t get enough support. I believe Obama can gather that support.

On top of that, all he really needs to do to make up for his lack of experience in the White House is to surround himself with the right people. And listen. I believe that Obama listens.

I’m tired of the status quo. I’m tired of feeling frustrated that I can’t do anything. And yes, I’m tired of having a Bush or a Clinton to look to. Is it possible for me to be a cynic and an idealist at the same time? I don’t think Washington works. I don’t think my voice is very well represented, because I don’t have enough money to influence anyone. I don’t want to just sit around and wait for things to happen. To me, Barack is my hope, the voice that people will listen to, the voice that (mostly) says what I have been trying to say. I want a chance, I want to feel like I’m not just one person, that I can do something.

Is that weak compared to a realist’s point of view? Perhaps, but if I don’t dream, who will?

Looking forward to your response…

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