I got an email from the Heritage Foundation today, asking me to donate.
In part of the email there was this sentence:
Our expert team of researchers and communication specialists are taking a new approach to beating the left by building strong conservative statesmen.
It is impossible to make a statesman.
First, a bit of explanation.
A politician is a man who holds office. He can do it well or poorly. But all the same, he’s a politician. Politician is a job description, not a measure of merit.
Now the word statesman is completely different. It’s a measure of quality, and not merely a job description. He is of course a man who holds office. So he’s a politician too. But the word statesman indicates the quality of work he does in that job.
So, what is a statesman?
A statesman is a man that can see clearly where his nation is at the present. He also sees where it needs to go in order to be healthy and successful. Additionally, he can see the problems of the future, to a fair extent, and makes preparations to deal with them. And finally, he is willing to sacrifice his own advancement in order to solve today’s and tomorrow’s problems.
So a statesman is a man who is:
Clear-sighted about present and future problems;
Prepares himself and his nation to meet them;
Accepts the consequences, good or bad, that come to him personally for doing so.
The arch example of statesmanship comes from Washington.
Having fought the war for our independence for nearly nine years, he looked forward to spending the latter part of his life in retirement. But when he saw that the nation, before the constitution, was coming apart, he began working for a solution. He encouraged the early federalists to work on a new form of government. And he coaxed them along when they began to slide from the path.
When the constitutional convention finally came together, Washington presided over it. This was a risky step, because the idea of national union under one government was unpopular in powerful circles. Especially in Washington’s native Virginia.
Once the constitution was ratified by enough states for it to take effect, Washington, reluctantly, became our first president. He knew that he was spending the final years of his life in a job he didn’t want. But for the nation, he did so.
After four years, he’d had more than enough. He wanted to quit in the worst way. But the French Revolution had erupted in Europe. And its anti-authority message was making waves on our shores. Many were being carried away by the Revolutionaries’ ‘New Religion of Man,’ and were questioning why we even needed a government at all, aside from the most basic local government. In the face of this, Washington took up the mantle once more and ran for president again. He was elected unanimously, and in doing so he knew that the very last few years of his life were being spent.
Washington lived only two and a half years after his presidency ended. During that time, he continued to coordinate with federalist leaders to try to stem the tide of revolution in this country.
To get back to Heritage’s line about making statesmen: it is impossible to do so, because it’s impossible to train someone to be clear-sighted, dedicated to duty, and to love his country. It is possible to strengthen these attributes when they already exist. But they can’t be made. And even so, strengthening only goes so far. In order for a man to be a statesman, he must be born with a high amount of these things in him already. He must come into this world pretty near the level of statesmanship. Training can only add the last 10 or 15 percent needed to make him unshakeable and focused.
I mention this for two reasons: one, because it’s important to know what’s possible when it comes to improving leadership. Two, because I’m tired of people talking about ‘making leaders,’ as if human beings are putty to be molded.