CPAC: Plenty of likely candidates, but what about real leaders?
The Conservative Political Action Conference, widely acknowledged as a debut of sorts for Republican presidential candidates, opens Thursday. Sarah Palin won't be there--yet again. But most likely other leading candidates will be, testing their messages, giving speeches and hoping to win the straw poll.
What's unusual is that even though we're less than a year from the Iowa caucus, none of the major figures--unless you think pizza magnate Herman Cain will be a front-runner--have officially declared their candidacy. The Post's Chris Cillizza broke down the reasons why in a piece on Sunday. There's money, for one--starting later makes for a less expensive campaign in what's sure to be a record-setting race in terms of cost. Another reason: the Internet and social media, which make fundraising and message-sharing more immediate, changing the rules of campaigning. And finally, there's the "Palin factor," as Cillizza calls it. Many may be waiting to find out if Sarah Palin is going to jump into the race, because she "fundamentally alters the winning calculus for everyone."
These are people who will be running--or thinking about running--for arguably the highest leadership post in the world. I can understand the first two reasons for holding back. But the third, to the extent it's true, represents the antithesis of leadership, in my view. By its very definition, leaders are people who believe in what they're doing so much that they don't wait around to see whether someone else is going to do it too.
I realize politics is a calculating and highly strategic sport. But forgive me for holding onto a shred of hope that some people run for president because they truly believe they can make a difference, and not just because their political advisers say they have a chance to win.
In other parts of life, we value people who raise their hands first. The employee who signs on first for a challenging project is seen as future leadership material. The activist who gets her hands dirty first with a messy global problem is seen as a pioneer. And the CEO who first tries out some new way of managing his company or running his factories, without the benefit of reports from consultants, is a visionary.
But in presidential races, the person who runs to the front of the line is apparently toast. As The Fix pointed out, first in usually means first out: Only two non-incumbent candidates since 1972 (McGovern and Gore) who were first to declare have won the nomination.
Whether this is a fluke of history or solid evidence that early declarations are a curse is debatable. Perhaps we Americans like our presidents to be coy and noncommittal about their eagerness to lead. If they're so busy with other activities, many of which may be more lucrative, they must be important and powerful, we must think.
Granted, being first out of the gate may mean a candidate is a little more vulnerable. It may mean the message isn't fully focus grouped and straw polled. And it may mean the talking points still need some fine-tuning by party operatives. Call me naive, but if they're declaring their candidacy early because they truly believe they have something to contribute, it also means they're a leader, in every sense of the word.
February 10, 2011; 9:23 AM ET |
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