Perpetuating a Problem
Political leaders who visit campus bring a troubling rhetoric
Jon Huntsman Jr., the former Governor of Utah and presidential candidate for the Republican Party, recently visited campus to give a talk at the Harvard Kennedy School. Huntsman’s main message to his audience was that the political world suffers from a lack of genuine leadership, both at the party and the government level. Asserting that the Republican Party is “not in a good place right now,” Huntsman went on to lament that, “There is a leadership void in the world…and when you have a leadership void, mischief tends to play out in the void.”
While Huntsman’s words may seem wise at first, they disguise a genuine problem in the relationship between political leaders and Harvard. Whether by claiming that America’s political scene does not have adequate leaders, or by explicitly encouraging young people to enter politics, prominent political figures who visit Harvard far too often urge students to take up a career in this field. Rather than encouraging young minds to enter politics so as to fill some perceived “void,” Huntsman and others like him should address the fact that politics needs individuals who hold genuine convictions they wish to uphold. The main problem with our political system is the reason that people choose to enter it in the first place. We need leaders who passionately believe in their ideals, rather than individuals who are guided by the idea of leadership for its own sake.
The despondent tone of Huntsman’s talk belies the hope he claims to see in the future. By negatively contrasting the present generation of political leadership with future ones, the former governor merely finds an ingenious way to implicitly criticize his own peers on the current political spectrum. While he is correct to find fault with his peers and many of our current leaders, this smacks of resentment from someone who openly refers to himself as a “failed politician.” If he is really so jaded with the current political climate, why come to Harvard to convert the next generation of career politicians? Having recently served as ambassador to China, Huntsman more than many others should value experiences different from a retail political career.
Last Friday, appearing at an event on campus with former President Bill Clinton, Ambassador Gianna Angelopoulos of Greece asserted that, “we need to train and inspire emerging leaders.” Rather than having the leaders of tomorrow be trained or inspired by those of today, let them discover themselves. Why enter politics at age 21, with a lifetime of learning and discovery yet ahead? Running for office, or making a name for oneself in Washington should not exist as hermetically-sealed career paths. When our current crop of leaders encourage this, they run the danger only of perpetuating the problematic paths to power that so many today have pursued.