McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–“Lead, follow or get out of the way,” my father taught me. The 2002 election is now in the rearview mirror, and it is my observation that President Bush is leading, a majority of the Americans are following, and the Democrats — for the time being — have been pushed out of the way.
For two years the president’s detractors have cracked that he was “selected” rather than elected. Those who opined such did so either from ignorance (not understanding how the American electoral process operates), sour grapes (angry and desirous to blame something for the loss), or deceit (knowing the truth but seeking to invalidate the election by repeating what is known to be false).
Well, if he was selected in 2000, make no doubt he was elected — albeit vicariously — in the election of 2002. However, given the way the president stumped for so many winners — his Florida brother included — the victory might not even need be deemed vicarious.
Pundits are still pondering the Republicans’ historic triumph. Some suggest that the American public’s fear, fueled by terrorism, outweighed the sluggish economy. Others suggest that voters have simply grown weary of hackneyed liberal ideas. One thing is crystal clear, Republicans won. In some cases they won big. Even where the margins were close, the victories were significant because they came in traditionally Democratic strongholds.
There is a Chinese proverb that says, “He who thinks he is leading and has no one following is only taking a walk.” The reason for the Republican triumph — and, like it or not, my Democrat friends, the affirmation of President Bush — is leadership. The current resident of the White House is leading, most of the American people are following, and the Democrats are seemingly out for a stroll.
Leadership in and of itself is neither good nor bad — it just is (and leadership does not spend time trying to define “is”). History is cluttered with examples of poor leaders. Hitler began as a leader but traded his role for that of dictator. A despot demands that people follow and forces compliance. Leaders are asked to be at the forefront and people follow of their own volition.
In recent years America has been suffering from a dearth of leadership. So much so that few people recognize a leader when they see one. It seems, perhaps, that the recent election indicates that President Bush has emerged as a leader in the eyes of the American people. So what is it that characterizes a leader? What is it that makes people want to follow?
While a leader does many things, in my mind, he or she must do at least two things exceedingly well. A leader must make decisions and establish a positive tone.
A leader is responsible for making decisions. Those who do not understand leadership fail to recognize that the leader may not even like the decision he or she renders. However, like Harry Truman, leaders understand that “the buck” stops with them and decisions have to be made. Leaders must be decisive.
A leader also sets the tone. A leader is like a thermostat. A thermostat does not heat or cool a room; it only sets the temperature to a desired setting. A leader cannot change people’s hearts or transform difficult circumstances, however he or she can set a standard for optimism, tenacity and decorum. Leaders understand that their attitudes, actions and reactions will eventually trickle down to those who follow.
Love George W. Bush or loathe him, when it comes to being decisive and setting the tone, he does not hesitate in either arena. He has been more than willing to make difficult decisions and he always maintains a positive and determined attitude. These qualities are what make him popular with the American people and, in part, are what resulted in an affirmation of his leadership in the 2002 election.
Leadership is a gift from those who choose to follow. Like a gift it must be received graciously and used wisely. It cannot be taken for granted. President Bush and the Republicans were given leadership in the recent election. It is up to them to use it wisely. If this gift is taken for granted, in two years they — like the Democrats — also could find themselves taking a long lonely walk.
Boggs is pastor of Valley Baptist Church, McMinnville, Ore. His column appears each Friday in Baptist Press.