“Strong leader” is the medal every politician wants on his chest, pinned there by the voters. Those who have succeeded – Thatcher, Blair, Reagan – are those who’ve been branded strong, while weak is synonymous with failure: step forward, John Major. No matter what else the polls say, Conservative strategists draw comfort from the data showing David Cameron trumping Ed Miliband on the “strong leader” measure.
Yet the Christie affair suggests our desire for strength is a complicated business, that we want it but only up to a point. For a while, Republicans especially liked the fact that Christie seemed more Goodfellas than West Wing, happy to intimidate teachers or tell a disgruntled voter to “keep walking” (unless, one presumes, the voter wanted to get hit). But when that machismo turns into outright abuse of power, at the expense of large numbers of ordinary citizens, it loses its lustre. There is, it seems, a line that separates the muscular, decisive leader from the aggressive bully – a line Christie has crossed, to what could prove his fateful cost.
If only, Freedland muses, there were some scholarly work which could describe accurately and convincingly this danger, the transmogrification of leader into bully… Fortunately for Freedland he has the inside dope on just such a work:
In April, the veteran political scientist and former professor of politics at Oxford, Archie Brown, will publish The Myth of the Strong Leader, suggesting we should cure ourselves of our attraction to the alpha male model of leadership. Once a dominant single individual rules, the way is paved towards “important errors at best, and disaster and massive bloodshed at worst”.
Wonderful. Can’t walk to see Archie Brown’s book come out. Can’t wait to see how much of his argument, if not his examples, walks over the ground set out in this book, published a whole year before Brown’s book, and already warning about the dangers that seemingly have only just occurred to Freedland.