For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 101, or, more accurately, I will use Psalm 101 as a starting-point to talk about the character of leaders. Psalm 101 is probably a Psalm by an Israelite king, in which the king resolves to maintain personal integrity, to surround himself with righteous people rather than liars, and to execute justice on a daily basis.
Does a person have to be personally blameless to be a good leader? There are reasons that one could answer “no” to that question. Jimmy Carter was a good man, to the point that he didn’t think that he should lust after women! But many do not regard him as a strong or effective leader when he was the President of the United States. Bill Clinton, by contrast, had moral failings. He cheated on his wife, and detractors (and even some supporters) acknowledge that he spun or stretched the truth quite a bit. Yet, many consider him to be a good President. I also think of Lyndon Johnson, who accomplished good things because he knew the machinery of politics. A possible problem with blamelessness in leaders is that it can make them naive or uncompromising, such that they lack the skills that they need to make deals that could further their agenda (through arm-twisting, spin, trade-offs, or compromise), or are unrealistic in their expectations (in that they expect for everyone to be blameless, when people may feel that they benefit more by following a lower standard than perfection).
So does character not matter in a leader? I would say “no” to that. Bill Clinton’s infidelities gave his political enemies something to exploit, which nearly jeopardized his Presidency and took time away from reforms that he could have accomplished. If leaders are dishonest, then they may have problems forming alliances or making deals, for people won’t trust them to keep their word. Moreover, it’s probably a good idea for leaders to surround themselves with people who value truth, for leaders need to know what is really going on, which may differ from what they want to hear: otherwise, they (and we) could find ourselves crashing into the brick wall of reality, and that would not be pleasant!
At the very least, I would hope that leaders would have the character to be concerned about doing justice and what is good for the country. Otherwise, injustice, and even chaos, would erupt. That’s why it’s better to have leaders who are not swayed by bribes, or (for that matter) campaign contributions by special interests. They should not be blinded to the plight of the vulnerable or the powerless.
So, in my opinion, I’d want for a leader to have character, but also a degree of political savvy. Are the two mutually exclusive, or can they co-exist?