I am never more cynical about politics than deep into the election season, something which, in our day, we never completely escape. In reading Mornings on Horseback I’ve been doubly captive, reading about politics while politics consumes center stage in our public life.
Early in his 20s, Theodore Roosevelt was elected a New York State Assemblyman and in that post began to learn the grittier side of political life. On one occasion, he supported a bill which, upon reflection, he later opposed coming to agree with others who argued that it was unconstitutional. In changing his mind and his vote, this is, in part, what he said:
“We have heard a great deal about the people demanding the passage of this bill. Now, anything the people demand that is right it is most clearly and most emphatically the duty of this Legislature to do; but we should never yield to what they demand if it is wrong…. If the people disapprove our conduct, let us make up our minds to retire to private life with the consciousness that we have acted as our better sense dictated; and I would rather go out of politics having the feeling that I had done what was right than stay in with the approval of all men, knowing in my heart that I had acted as I ought not to.” (page 269)
McCullough considered this ill-advised and politically naïve. And perhaps it was a foolish thing to verbally express, but it to me is something I long for in any leader. Leadership is not ignoring the people one leads, but it is not being chained to them either. We should elect people who think, consider, decide, and act based upon the best information available to them, and not according to the most powerful lobbyist or latest poll. God, give us such.