Political Leadership for the New Century: Personality and Behavior among American Leaders

By Linda O. Valenty; Ofer Feldman | Go to book overview

Chapter 11

Governing a Divided America in the New Millennium: Heroic versus Reflective Leadership

Stanley A. Renshon

INTRODUCTION

Americans, at the beginning of the new century live in a time of unprecedented prosperity. Yet, they continue to be uneasy about the quality of their leaders, the competence of their institutions, and the larger meaning of their lives. They live in a country where there is increasing inter-connectedness but far less relatedness. They live in a country where indicators of economic and cultural well being go in opposite directions. And they live in a country where, in spite of its success, many—in most polls a majority of its citizens—are profoundly troubled by the direction in which it appears to be going (Wysocki, 1999; Pew Research Center, 1999).

On top of these divisive paradoxes, the country has just emerged from one of the most evenly split, bitterly fought, and unusually concluded presidential elections since 1876. The president, George W. Bush lost the popular vote by 539,897 votes (Associated Press, 2000a), and beat his opponent, Al Gore, in the Electoral College by gaining only one more than the 270 votes needed to win. Moreover, he gained Florida’s decisive 25 electoral votes only after 36 days of raw political and legal combat between the two candidates, which was settled by a controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision only five days before electors were scheduled to meet and cast their states’ votes for president. Small wonder, many questioned whether any president could effectively govern in such circumstances.

Previous chapters in this volume have focused on individual leaders. This chapter begins by examining the psychological context in which

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