29 January 2012 ~ 1 Comentario

Ideologues and managers

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

(FIRMAS PRESS) It’s great that Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are facing off for the leadership of the Republican Party. The members of that tribe will have to choose between two politicians different in every respect, each with his own virtues and limitations. Gingrich is a good ideologue, Romney a good manager. Some observers talk about “the Goldwater Republicans versus the Rockefeller Republicans.”

I give the word “ideologue” a positive connotation that it doesn’t have in English, at least in the United States. To me, it’s someone who has a theoretical view of the society in which he lives, of the history he shares with his compatriots, of the State freely segregated to resolve common conflicts and give sense and form to coexistence. The ideologue, in a democratic world, tries by peaceful means to accommodate reality to his intellectual suppositions and tries to guide his compatriots in the direction of the ideal country he has in mind. Jefferson was an ideologue. John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan also were, though to a lesser degree.   

The manager, on the other hand, feeds on experience, more than on theoretical schemes. He is a practical solver of problems. He loves common sense above everything else. He does not have – nor does he need – an overall view of history or a profound perception of human beings. They may even get in his way. To him, these are metaphysical conceptualizations useful to formulate great theories but not to increase production, provide jobs and avoid difficulties. To managers, governing is to ceaselessly improve the quality of life of voters. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a manager. So were George Bush Sr and Bill Clinton.

There are great U.S. presidents who were ideologues and others, equally fine, who were managers. The Republican Teddy Roosevelt was an extraordinary president, whom we must describe as an ideologue. Grover Cleveland, a Democrat, was a magnificent president along the line of managers, until the 1893 crisis came upon him and he had to sail into the wind until 1897, when his second term ended.

Perhaps the suitability of ideologues or managers depends on the moment. In 1933, when U.S. voters elected F.D.R., they were looking for a great manager who could rescue the country from the recession that began in 1929. At that instant, the only danger was the huge economic debacle. In 1981, when Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter and entered the White House, the Americans’ morale was touching bottom. The country had lost the Vietnam War, the Iranian ayatollahs had impunely kidnapped a handful of Americans, inflation was nearing 20 percent and it seemed that the Soviet Union was destined to rule the planet. The Americans elected an ideologue so he could free them from pessimism and the nation could regain the leadership it had lost.” 

Of course, the dispute for power in the United States is not only between ideologues and managers. There are at least two other categories: the heroes and the political operators. George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Zachary Taylor and Ulysses S. Grant became presidents because they were very skillful warriors. Two of them, Washington and Jackson, triumphed as presidents and left a positive mark in the nation’s history. Grant, in turn, was disappointing, while poor Taylor died of diarrhea shortly after entering the White House. Ike Eisenhower, the victorious general of World War Two, was a heroe who governed in the style of a manager and did a magnificent job.

Then there’s the political operators, people who rise to power because they know how to handle people and complex situations but have no prevailing key feature. Generally, they’re masters of intrigue. Some become excellent presidents, like Harry S. Truman, and others fail terribly, like Richard M. Nixon. Obama is a remarkable political operator.

Perhaps the most extraordinary case is that of Abraham Lincoln, an extremely skilled political operator who was asked to deal with the tragedy of the Civil War, became an ideologue forced to define the course of the nation in its bitterest moment, did not neglect his managerial responsibilities and died as a hero, beloved by millions of his compatriots. That is why many U.S. historians consider him the best president in the nation’s history: he synthesizes and summarizes the features and virtues of the great leaders.

One Response to “Ideologues and managers”

  1. ricardo 29 January 2012 at 12:56 pm Permalink

    Buen analisis y buen articulo

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