Perhaps it is best to start by saying there is no ideal presidential candidate now running in the race in either party. None of them has all the qualities that are presently needed, although some candidates may have a few of them. No candidate is proportional to the crisis that is coming.
Part of the problem lies in the structure of the electoral game as it has evolved over the decades. Politics has come to reward only those who can deliver the greatest number of benefits to constituents. Candidates are asked to give voters the best value for their tax dollars in much the same way shareholders expect ROI from the corporations they invest in.
As a result, economy dominates much of the debate. The moral qualities needed for the job are mentioned but pushed aside. The real bottom line is about money, jobs and prosperity. Depending on their orientation, candidates promise tax cuts or soak-the-rich tax increases to better the financial situation of the average voter. The candidates all sound off on important issues like healthcare, student loans or social security. But it all comes down to a “what’s-in-it-for-me” race that has come to define the election cycle.
Additionally, in order to attract the voter/consumer, elections have become all about impression and image. There are dazzling Hollywood-like spectacles where candidates put on road shows costing hundreds of millions of dollars. Campaign managers employ techniques of public polling and improving positive perception.
All candidates, even the so-called anti-establishment candidates, follow a populist narrative to hide their less-than-humble millionaire status. All candidates to a certain degree become entertainers and slaves to polling surveys. They are merchants of benefices and peddlers of promises.
And many voters are no better since they demand this great Mardi Gras of promises and spin. They become frustrated because no candidate can possibly deliver on so many promises, save by making even more (unfulfillable) promises.
The ideal candidate, who is not running, must be different. What is needed is an extraordinary leader. And by this is meant someone with a profound sense of the common good of the nation and the dangers it faces, one who is gifted with a keen perception of the opportunities to be pursued to bring the ship of State to safe harbor, and endowed with a strong will and fine sensibility with which to build a consensus and inspire all to follow willingly the direction indicated. This candidate must be a person whose moral courage grows in direct proportion with the perils the nation is facing.
But an extraordinary leader is not just focused on dangers. This person must also inspire true progress. And so, this ideal candidate, who is not running, must also be perceptive as to where the nation must go and not be guided by polls or pundits, but must boldly interpret what is best for the nation. This is what it means to be a leader.
Finding such leaders is not unreasonable. Sociologists recognize that in any society there are always those visionaries they call “representative characters” who rise above the crowd and point in the direction needed and desired by its members. Such figures have the unique ability to draw and fuse a society together.
“A representative character is a kind of symbol,” writes sociologist Robert N. Bellah. “It is a way by which we can bring together in one concentrated image the way people in a given social environment organize and give meaning and direction to their lives.” Philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre writes, such characters “are, so to speak, the moral representatives of their culture.”
The ideal candidate, who is not running, should be a representative character that perceives the principles, moral qualities, and virtues desired and needed by the nation and dares to translate them into concrete programs of life and culture … and does so quickly.
This American leader would pursue a vision similar to that which propelled the nation to victory in the Cold War. This new vision must move a divided and polarized nation not to seek only after material benefits, however legitimate they might be. Rather this individual, by words and example, should convince and inspire people toward the most difficult of all tasks, which is to develop within them a willingness to sacrifice for what is good and right. Without this, nothing will be achieved in the crisis that is coming.
Finally, the ideal candidate, who is not running, must be authentic and strive to be the best that the nation can offer. Candidates should have the courage to be true elites in their pursuit of excellence. They should stand tall amid adversity, even to the point of braving unpopularity. They should have strong moral principles, be accessible to all, and be dignified in their demeanor. They should not be afraid to confront the majority when it is wrong, admit mistakes, or fall on their knees in supplication to God in times of affliction and need. All these are necessary virtues in the crisis that is coming.
Where is this ideal candidate, who is not running, to be found? Leaders of this type are not found in the din and shouting of the spectacles that so characterize present-day elections. As candidates and voters engage in the campaign revelry full of insults, jokes and mudslinging, there is no place for the authentic leaders who are dismissed as killjoys, that ruin the party by their sober warnings.
The ideal candidate, who is not running, will only come when those who grieve for the nation start imagining, desiring and working toward a return to order, despite all difficulties and sufferings. In the great crisis that is coming, such leaders will emerge since that is when they normally emerge from their silent exile. When they are truly desired, they rise to the occasion. When they are most needed, they appear.
John Horvat II is a scholar, researcher, educator, international speaker, and author of the book Return to Order, as well as the author of hundreds of published articles. He lives in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania where he is the vice president of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.