With time and age, we all come to realize that the majority of events that shaped history and society are deeply influenced by politics and ultimately by political operations. Elections, governance, the creation of public and foreign policy, diplomacy, laws, foreign affairs, and trade deals with other countries are all connected with the politicians elected in office at a particular time. Their abilities, skills, and actions are the tools that enable or disable society’s wellbeing and development.
Being a good politician has and will always be one of the hardest tasks a man or woman can hope to attain. While today, politicians aren’t a rare discovery, exceptional ones, great leaders with brilliant minds are truly hard to find. The past has graced us with skillful politicians that people will always look up to, aspire to be like and remember at times of crisis.
As the past has been fruitful by the presence of great officeholders, in recent years we are slowly starting to witness a shortage on great leadership, lack of quality and virtue and a decline in the political act itself. People feel anger, frustration and often disgust towards their incompetent representatives and the current political system. This repulsive behavior is eminent with the election abstention and the alienation of civilians from politics altogether. This isn’t a surprise, given the fact that in the last two decades the words, sex scandals, corruption, personal interest, contravention, corporation, manipulation have often been associated with political figures.
While healthy criticism should be made, it isn’t the purpose of this article to discuss in depth or list, past political misdoings and how changes in society and economy after the Cold War have impacted politics. In contrast the purpose of this article is to delve deeper into what can make a politician objectively great, in hopes of enabling the people who are already participating in politics, and those who wish devote their time in the latter, to avoid the mistakes that in the past, led the people astray while recreating positive interest in the act of politics once more.
Affirmation for This Article
Being a political scientist, living in Greece, a country that scores very high in the polls about political disability, corruption, law violation, skill incompetence and more, should be enough to write hundred of articles about Politics. In truth, this article was simply inspired by a graffiti.
Every city is more or less filled with graffities and painted walls that among other things express political messages. As I walked past a street I usually, carelessly pass by, I noticed written with thick dark paint on private garage door the phrase “Death to all politicians”. While these messages are often written by anarchists, who are against any type of system and any type of law, I believe that these exact words might as well express a variety of people who are tired of the way that current politicians act. Compelled by this I decided to start this series of articles about Modern Day Politics.
The Subject of Ideal Leadership
The question what makes a politician great, or even further what is an ideal leader has interested the most extraordinary minds. It is apparent of course, that the term ‘’politician’’ is a modern, unknown to people who lived in a time of king and emperors.
Nevertheless, while the rules of leading people have changed remarkably, and the power has been distributed in the hands of many, it should still concern us because the opinions expressed below can be used with modifications, even today. In order to define what qualities and traits a great politician, a magnificent leader need to have, briefly, we should mention some of the views geniuses like Plato and Machiavelli had at their time for this important subject.
In the circle of ancient philosophy, Plato dedicated a big part of his work on building (in theory) the perfect state and the people that should rule over it. He believed that if and when his ideal city-state would ever come to be, philosophers would be the perfect rulers, resulting in the characterization of Philosopher-Kings. Written around 380 BC in Book VI of The Republic, he defines a philosopher firstly as its eponymous occupation: “wisdom-lover”. He then distinguishes between one who loves true knowledge (as opposed to more experience or education) by saying that the philosopher is the only person who has access to ideas – the archetypal entities that exist behind all representations of the form (such as Beauty itself as opposed to any one particular instance of beauty). It is next and in support of the idea that philosophers are the best rulers that Plato fashions the Ship of State metaphor, one of his most often cited ideas (along with his allegory of the cave): a “true pilot must of necessity pay attention to the seasons, the heavens, the stars, the winds, and everything proper to the craft if he is really to rule a ship.”
Earlier, another Greek, Thucydides one of the greatest ancient historians, believed that a great leader is he who has the ability and strength of character to argue with demos and show courage for the sake of representation, truth, and democracy.
Almost 2.000 years later, during the Dark Ages the Italian diplomat and political theorist, Niccolò Machiavelli in his book The Prince, noted that.
‘’It is not essential, then, that a Prince should have all the good qualities [of leadership], but it is most essential that he should seem to have them; I will even venture to affirm that if he has and invariably practices them all, they are hurtful, whereas the appearance of having them is useful.’’
According to Machiavelli, the ideal prince should be ruthless and willing to eschew conventional morality to maintain his power. In fact, they should not allow themselves to be govern according to any principle other than the willingness to do what is necessary to deal with whatever issues that fortune throws in his path. He should be willing to be dishonest, telling people what they want to hear, but it is equally important that he be shrewd enough to make people believe that he is honest. Similarly, he should be frugal while appearing to be generous, and even though he should be ruthless, he should also appear to be just. Indeed, in Machiavelli’s politics, appearances are everything, as is flexibility. The prince’s virtue lay not in his obedience to some abstract moral code, but rather in his willingness to do whatever the situation called for. Machiavelli’s hard-headed realism is summarized by the following quote:
‘’It seems to me better to follow the real truth of things than an imaginary view of them. For many Republics and Princedoms have been imagined that were never seen or known to exist in reality.’’
A leader, he claimed, must be like the lion and the fox, in other words, both mighty and forceful, but also sly and duplicitous when the need arose.
400 years and many government changes later, in ‘’John F. Kennedy on Leadership’’ a book about one of the most influential and charismatic politicians of the 20th century, John A. Barnes delved into the virtues and qualities of one of America’s greatest presidents. He listed that JFK had and notably any worthy leader should have a vision, be courageous enough to break the rules and question the status quo. Be resilient and charismatic in order to turn liabilities into pluses and set a personal style. Impeccable communication skills and speechwriting should be acquired in order to present the idea effectively and deliver the message masterfully. Furthermore, leaders should always be committed to learning, challenging their assumptions and knowledge. Among other, they should look to build a strong team, become good decision makers and create the best out of miscalculations while maintaining coolness at times of crisis and pressure.
The Death of the Ideal Politician
The ideal politician doesn’t exist. It is opposed to human nature and the current state of society. Ideal circumstances are opposed to what makes us humans. Our dreams, hopes, passions and anxieties separate us from machines and fortunately or unfortunately shape society accordingly.
The decline in quality and virtue of politics isn’t and shouldn’t be studied as a separate part of society. Politics are simply reflecting the state of society today. While we live better than our ancestors, have revolutionized life and our capabilities with technology, we fail miserably in other significant areas like behavior, self-awareness and paying attention to what is really important in life. We need to remind ourselves that as civilians we may have rights but we also have responsibilities towards ourselves, our representatives and our state. What politicians do is ultimately what we permit. If in the future we are able to see the bigger picture and set aside our personal interest, greed, and egoism while dedicating time and effort on the state then the ideal politicians might be able to take form because society will be politically engaged at all times.
No man should wait for politicians to act nor should politicians become fearful servants of people’s illogical needs. A politician should construct and devote all his force and energy into building a greater present and future for the people even if they are unable to see it at the time.
Understand: Great politicians aren’t always the ones loved the most, but they are always the ones that put people’s interest above all. As in any relationship if there is no trust there can be no future. The relationship between the politician and the citizen is the most crucial part in politics. Unfortunately, it is the part that is missing today.
The Qualities of a Great Representative
The molding of a great politician is never easy. One must go through hardships and see the ugly parts of life. Only by understanding reality and the needs of the common man will he be able to create policy that will make lives truly better. The following qualities while they are specifically listed for the development of a great politician are generally traits that everyone should have because they form great people first and great representatives second.
The ‘’iron’’ quality. Becoming a leader should be a politician’s main goal. Many have tried but few have achieved it. A great leader can be a great politician but not all politicians can be great leaders. If you master leadership and diplomacy between your team and the people involved in politics you are on the right path.
Courage and Vision
Politicians ought to be courageous and stand up for what is right. Confidence in truth and strength of character is needed. Politics is a dirty and tough game. They shouldn’t diverge from what is fair especially when people’s interest is at stake. In addition, great politicians ought to have a grand vision for the future. Haridimos Tsoukas noted in one his most recent lectures that looking at the big picture and the long run is essential to become a politician and that many fail in this exact area.
Genuine Personality but Fierce Character
People’s representatives ought to be genuine human beings. They should become the inspiration of a generation and traits like authenticity and humanity can make a politician graceful. Apart from all that, a politician needs to have passion and resilience. Passion for the good of people, and resilience because he knows politics is one of the hardest duties. To do it right, authenticity and passion are essential.
Lawful and Ethical
With modern age politicians and members of government being so closely associated with unlawful and unethical behavior (sex scandals, financial bribery, interests) an aspiring politician should give even greater attention to being faithful to the Law and keep his ethics and values in high esteem.
Transparency and Innovation
Politicians have lost their transparency in recent years. Office holders don’t have the right justify the lack of clarity in their actions because of the shady nature of politics which in following articles will be explored. Additionally and in direct connection with vision politicians ought to be innovative and surpass their comfort zones, pushing the agenda on matters that can create positive and needed change for society and not for their own interest.
Kindness and Assertiveness
A politician without kindness cannot be a good representative of people. Showing compassion reveals character and showcases principles and reminds everyone about the humane side of things. While kindness and compassion show a softer side of man/woman, politicians should assert themselves, their objectives and their will. Their presence should be felt with every sentence and every word spoken and they should never oblige to do what is correct for the nation no matter the cost.
Optimism and Realism
Being an optimist means that you see the good in every difficulty. Being a realist means that you recognize circumstances for what they truly are and act accordingly. These two traits, if linked together, will enable any politician to shine in difficult times because of his impeccable and truthful spirit. When circumstances aren’t ideal and changes need to be made, leaders always choose the best course of actions because they possess optimism and realism.
Wisdom, Patience, and Appearance
A person involved in politics should aspire to gain wisdom. To do that, he must be willing to question his beliefs, his ideologies, and his assumptions. Knowledge and ideas can always be developed and a great leader knows that. Among other things he knows that lack of patience can be detrimental not only for him but also for the people so he must never be too quick to act or react when his thought process is not linear and his course of action is unsure. In addition, a great politician, be it man or woman; know the importance of self-image and appearance. That means taking good care of the body, the mental and physical health but also the clothes they wear and the way they carry themselves at all times.
Communication and Connection
A great leader must showcase a deep connection with the people that he serves and be a profound speaker. John Reagan was praised as ‘’The Great Communicator’’ because of his remarkable ability to connect with the people that saw and listened to his speeches. Moreover, John F. Kennedy is said to have won the presidential election against Richard Nixon because using his charismatic personality and good looks to his advantage, he was able to connect and communicate better with the audience because he set his focus on the people that watched the debate on television instead of the radio. So while Nixon was sweating and was frantically looking around, Kennedy stood there calmly and gracefully, answered the questions masterfully and won the debate. Both Reagan and JFK had detailed speeches and knew how to properly deliver them. They were always paying attention to the words they used to convey a particular message, they knew the importance of body language and mannerisms and showcased their personalities in the best way possible. Their wit combined with intelligence and charisma secured their leadership.
Composure and Temperament
The year 1912 was a presidential election year, and former President Theodore Roosevelt was again campaigning for the nation’s highest office. By the evening of October 14, his campaign had carried him to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he was to deliver a speech in the city’s public auditorium.The time was nearing for him to speak, so he strode from his hotel onto the sidewalk outside, where a car was waiting to take him to the auditorium.
As Roosevelt walked toward the car a man suddenly stepped up to him and pointed a pistol at his heart. The gunman pulled the trigger and a bullet burst from the pistol and smashed its way into Roosevelt’s chest. His shirt was suddenly spattered with red, and more blood immediately began seeping from the ugly hole. The bullet had come to rest against his rib cage, a mere half inch from his lungs.
“He pinked me!” shouted Roosevelt, as bystanders rushed to subdue the gunman, John Shrank. They wrestled Shrank to the ground and then, seeing Roosevelt’s bloody clothing, prepared to rush him to the hospital. But they found Teddy Roosevelt a more difficult man to deal with than the would-be assassin. “TR” adamantly refused to go for help. “You just stay where you are!” he thundered. “I am going to make this speech and you might as well compose yourself.”
Teddy Roosevelt was as good as his word that October evening. Still wearing his torn and red-stained shirt, he had himself driven to the auditorium and there, Shrank’s bullet lodged in his chest, he pulled out his blood-spattered notes and gave his speech. “I have a message to deliver,” he declared to the stunned audience, “and I will deliver it as long as there is life in my body.”
Composure and temperament are what distinguishes a mere man from a great man. In like manner, the composure a politician in times of crisis will either expose a shallow man or reveal a glorious one.
Dedication and Effort
Time and effort need to be invested in order to create something worthy. Politicians first must show their dedication and hard work showcasing exemplary behavior in serving society. They have at their hands one of the hardest and most demanding professions and that is the reason they need to spend countless hours on something that might seemingly be impossible to master. Improvement is always available and that is what people of high offices should focus on.
Politics and politicians have varied through the ages and the governance of people has changed dramatically. Ancient city-states, slavery, monarchism, feudalism and new age government have all seen great and atrocious forms of leadership. Ancient and modern philosophers, historians, political scientists, past and present writers and more have all tried to conclude into what makes a great ruler, a great politician, a leader what character traits and qualities can make the ideal representatives. In this search, one must always remember how closely connected politics are with the economy, with the society, the Law, the media, and various interests groups. Their relationship affects one and another and no matter what is being said in theory, circumstances can change greatly in reality. Ideal leaders do not exist and never did. The future manifests only what we work for in the present.
Nevertheless, everyone must do the best in their abilities. If great politicians are to rise again then great men should be molded first. Being an active member of the state and being involved in politics isn’t a need but a duty. We all need to think deeply and act efficiently for a process of governance and not allow other people to decide because of our own inaction. At this moment we lose our right and we are adrift. If we call our systems Representative Democracies, it is our responsibility to attain the above qualities and aspire to better politics and ultimately the world around us. This notion starts individually, one step at a time, one person at a time all the while never losing the bigger picture. Only then will we be able to expand and improve as a whole. Improve not only politics but all mankind.
― Vince Lombardi Jr.
 Demos (Δήμος). The ordinary citizens of an ancient Greek city-state, considered as a political entity; population; the common people.
 Haridimos (“Hari”) Tsoukas (born 1961) is a Greek organization and leadership theorist and professor of organization studies.
- Wikipedia: Plato and the Philosopher Kings
- http://www.history.com/: Thucydides
- enotes.com: What are the qualities of the ideal prince, according to Machiavelli?
- John A. Barnes: The Lessons And Legacy Of A President; John F. Kennedy on Leadership
- http://www.keirsey.com/presidents.aspx: Presidential Temperament