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Commentary: Imperfect leadership is better than none

By Wes Mader Community Columnist May 30, 2019

These are challenging times. Our southern border is being overrun by thousands of undocumented, illegal immigrants. Iran and North Korea continue to pose potential nuclear threats. Our nation is adrift, floating toward socialism, abandoning the foundation upon which America was built. These and other major challenges need to be addressed. Imperfect leadership would be better than no leadership.

Great leadership is what sustained America when most needed, leadership from imperfect individuals who rose to the occasion. They were human beings with human faults who could not have survived in their day if subjected to the scrutiny being imposed on today’s would-be leaders. The non-stop search by politicians for sins of their adversaries and a national media eager to print it all have practically eliminated the possibility for anyone to lead our nation. The past presidents we revere would fail in today’s political atmosphere.

George Washington, the one-time British military officer, gained wealth using dubious means including slaves to work his plantation. Nevertheless, when America needed a leader to kneel and pray with the starving and demoralized troops at Valley Forge and then defeat the better-armed and trained British army, Washington was it. He gained independence for America and then guided our nation through its infancy. I wonder if the name Washington, D.C., will be attacked by those who are intent on erasing the names of former heroes and leaders from public buildings, streets and parks because of past sins.

When our nation was being divided and torn apart by the inhumanity of slavery, a strange-looking man born in a one-room cabin rose to the occasion. Abraham Lincoln was a log-splitter who became a self-educated lawyer (not by college decree) and defied odds by becoming president. He signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves and propelling America further into its bloodiest war, and as commander-in-chief executed the war that bound our nation together. His courage and good deeds cost him his life.

As our nation was being populated and transformed from wilderness and Native American territory into the world’s breadbasket, the splendor of the plains and mountains was being compromised for commercial gain. President Theodore Roosevelt, a former rough-riding military officer and hunter who slaughtered big game in America and Africa for the sport of it, had the vision to set aside and preserve many of America’s most beautiful places.

When Nazi Germany was overrunning Europe and Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, a commander-in-chief in a wheel chair, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, led our nation into a coalition with allies destined to win World War II. Roosevelt died before the war ended, elevating Vice President Harry Truman, a man with a high-school diploma and 82 days in the office, into the presidency.

In spite of personal deficiencies, Truman met the challenge with unimaginable courageous decisions: dropping the atomic bomb to bring the war to an immediate end, supporting the Marshall Plan to rebuild war-damaged Europe and joining in the creation of NATO. With World War II hardly over, Truman committed U.S. forces to protect South Korea, preventing it from becoming part of North Korea.

Truman’s less-than-presidential mannerisms and the failure by Americans to grasp the long-term effects of his decisions dimmed his chances for reelection in 1952. He chose not to run and left office with a low approval rating, but today’s credible historians rightly rate him as one of the best presidents ever.

Possibly the most dangerous threat ever to world civilization was the Cold War between America and the Soviet Union, each side holding the trigger of nuclear-tipped missiles aimed at each other. It took a Hollywood actor, former president of a labor union and Democrat-turned-Republican to challenge the Soviet Union and initiate the beginning of the end of Communism in Europe.

Given his credentials, Ronald Reagan could have been found unacceptable to either political party, but when he ran for a second term, he won all states except Minnesota, demonstrating that good leaders rise above politics.

Washington, Lincoln, Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, Truman and Reagan were all flawed individuals, unlikely candidates to lead a nation in crisis, but when it counted most, they put the nation’s interests above their own. Their legacies will last for generations. In spite of Donald Trump’s many flaws, leaders of the opposition party (and his own) owe it to America to try to make government work instead of using their political positions to render our nation leaderless.

If our elected representatives can’t or won’t curtail the ugliness of Washington politics, this presidency and future presidencies will all fail.

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Wes Mader is a former Prior Lake mayor. Following retirement after serving as president of Bowmar Aerospace and Defense in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Wes and his wife Char retired in Prior Lake.