Throughout our history, the United States of America has been blessed with outstanding leaders, starting with the Founding Fathers. Four of our best presidents, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt, are immortalized on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. Other great or near-great presidents might include Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and John Kennedy.
What about great senators? In my lifetime, there have been some outstanding U.S. Senators, such as Mike Mansfield of Montana, Everett Dirksen of Illinois, Howard Baker of Tennessee, Philip Hart of Michigan, Richard Russell of Georgia, Sam Ervin of North Carolina, J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, Richard Lugar Indiana and Ernest Hollings of South Carolina.
These men had a few things in common: courage, integrity, knowledge and wisdom. Moreover, they were able to rise above politics, putting the good of our nation as a whole ahead of partisan, parochial or personal interests. Although the true merits of our recent national leaders should be left to historians, there does seem to be a decline in the quality of political leadership in the U.S. during the last 30 or 40 years.
What can account for this decline? Once upon a time, mothers and fathers wanted their children to grow up to become the president of the United States. Today, fewer parents wish or dream this for their children. Many of our most talented young people – for example, those who go to Ivy League colleges – tend to think that the accumulation of wealth is the greatest good. Therefore, they major in business administration and seek jobs on Wall Street or other high-paying careers.
The American political system has evolved to where the men and women who seek public office must start campaigning at least two years before an election. The cost of such campaigns is enormous. Therefore, a candidate must either have great personal wealth or solicit millions of dollars from wealthy donors. Many highly qualified people are unwilling or unable to meet the monetary requirements or withstand such endurance contests.
In addition, campaigns for high public office have become increasingly nasty, dirty and dishonest. Some highly competent, moral people simply refuse to subject themselves and their families to the abuses of a political campaign. Once elected, the office holder is obliged to the individuals and organizations which provided financial support. In order to pay for his re-election campaign, he must continually ask for more money; otherwise, the well of funds will dry up, and he will be defeated.
There is one other problem for our leaders: Many of us have stopped respecting our elected representatives; some of us no longer even respect the office of the presidency.
Unless those who are calling for a convention to amend the Constitution under Article V are willing to reform the corrupting effect of unlimited, special-interest money on the political process and the excessive length of election campaigns, they are merely spinning their wheels and wasting taxpayers’ money.
Anthony J. DiStefano spent 29 years in state and federal government, including working with the Ohio General Assembly, the U.S. House of Representatives and two executive agencies of the federal government.