Paul Greenberg

"Foreign politics demands scarcely any of the qualities which are peculiar to a democracy; they require, on the contrary, the perfect use of almost all those in which it is deficient (for) a democracy can only with great difficulty regulate the details of an important undertaking, persevere in a fixed design, and work out its execution in spite of serious obstacles. It cannot combine its measures with secrecy or await their consequences with patience."

Tocqueville was right about many things, which is why the student of American politics, government and society in general would do well to re-read "Democracy in America" at least once a year. For example, he foresaw how slavery would make civil war inevitable, and threaten the Union itself. He foretold the cruel extirpation of the American Indian, and even the confrontation with Russia in a then distant future.

But our French friend and well-wisher put too much emphasis on the political structure of the American system -- its advantages and disadvantages, its potential and its limits -- and not enough on the quality and character of those at the head of it, which can make all the difference. Personnel is still policy.

For reasons hard to explain except by a providential grace, at just those moments when the country required a great leader, one would emerge out of the usual swirl of passions and parties that mark a democracy, and set a new course for the ship of state safely past the shoals ahead -- a Washington, a Lincoln, a Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan. Each made all the difference.

Now, once again, in both foreign and domestic affairs, the Republic drifts. Surely not even the most confirmed of Pollyannas would see any great constancy of purpose in the largely ad hoc maneuvers of the Republic's leaders today. But those of us who live by faith have come to expect grace -- indeed, to depend on it. Maybe that's why we wait confidently, expectantly, for the morrow. Keep the faith.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.