Ken Connor

When considering the slate of presidential candidates, three qualities are especially important. The first is principled leadership. A strong leader needs to identify the principles that will inform their decision making and stand by those principles even when it is politically inexpedient. In the last election the Republican Party claimed to be the party of family values, moral principle and fiscal conservatism; yet when political expediency or personal ambition got in the way of those principles, the principles went out the window. Voters saw dishonesty and corruption and scandal in the party, and voted accordingly. They recognized hypocrisy when they saw it, and they didnt like it. The reality of politics may require strategic political compromises, but elected official should not compromise their principles. Candidates should be upfront and honest ab out the principles that animate them, and voters should assess whether the candidates have a track record of demonstrated fidelity to those principles.

Second, America needs a leader who can cast a vision and bring people together in pursuit of that vision. Some presidential candidates seem to have a policy position on every possible issue, but no overall vision for where America should be headed. Some candidates are veritable founts of facts and figures; they revel in data and statistics. But Americans should not mistake policy wonks for leaders. A leader needs to be able to see the big picture, understand the fundamental problems, and inspire people with a solution. Vision—the next President needs to have it.

Third, a good leader must be authentic. Too many candidates today think leadership is finding a parade and getting out in front of it. For these candidates, polling prevails over principle. Undoubtedly, that's why more and more candidates are being charged with "flip-flopping" on the issues. "Flip-flopping" creates the impression that a candidate is not leading from principle, but from polling data. It is, of course, not wrong for a politician, over the course of his or her lifetime, to change their position on any number of issues. Anybody who has not changed their mind on anything over an extended period of time probably isn't thinking very seriously about their beliefs. However, voters realize that many candidates for president change their positions not because they have grown to understand new things, but because they have seen the poll numbers and believe that the numbers tell them what must be done to win. Such behavior is evidence that a candidate is insufficiently committed to principle, and lacks a well defined vision. In 2008, we cannot afford a president who is inauthentic.

Many of the issues we are facing today stem from a lack of principled, visionary and authentic leadership in the past. The gigantic battle over immigration reform is but one example of the problems that arise from the lack of such leadership. For decades politicians have been talking about how our immigration system is broken, but no one was willing to grasp the nettle and seriously deal with the problem. No one leader articulated the problem, marshaled the arguments and forged the consensus necessary to deal with this difficult issue in a comprehensive way. Benign neglect and band aids were the treatment applied to the ever growing cancer that we now call "illegal immigration". Over the years the cancer grew, spawning many related problems along the way. Now as our current leaders seek to address the problem, they are learning that in politics, no less so than in medicine, whe n it comes to dealing with cancer, "smaller is better than bigger" and "sooner is better than later". The great animosity and division that is now caused by this crisis likely could have been avoided if twenty or thirty years ago a strong and principled leader had been able to cast a vision for a coherent immigration policy in America and crafted a solution that Americans could unite behind. Instead, for decades leaders passed the buck, and now there seems to be no good answer to the problem.

Numerous other problems are smoldering in our country and threaten to erupt like a volcano in the future. How long will we ignore the looming need for social security reform, the tragedy of abuse and neglect of our elders in long-term care facilities, the breakdown of marriage and the family, and the spiraling of our national debt? The list could go on and on. Will we simply whistle past the graveyard pretending that these major problems will not soon mushroom into a national crisis? How bad do things have to get before real leaders will rise and address these issues?

This presidential election, America is looking for a leader who will stand on principle, who has a vision, and who is willing to provide authentic leadership. We cannot afford to fall into a pattern of waiting until a crisis has spun out of control before we are willing to address it. The price is too high and the consequences are too great. Strong leaders are needed now to bring our nation together and to start tackling tomorrow's problems today.

As we look at the slate of presidential candidates, we must ask ourselves who stands out as the most authentic, principled and visionary leader. It is that candidate that deserves our vote.

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.