The subject of statesmanship (hereinafter to include men and women) came up in a recent discussion with a serving Senator. The question arose as to what individuals could be turned to for wisdom and guidance during this period of economic stagnation and political confrontation. Despite serious reflection and consultation with others, few names come to mind.

The very definition of statesmen–experienced and respected political figures–sets the bar very high. There are quite a few former office-holders, both from administrations and Congress, who have experience. A very large number of Obama administration officials are veterans of the Clinton years, and many if not most of the second Bush administration figues served in the Reagan and first Bush years. Experience there is. The problem arises with the respect requirement.

Why are there so few genuine statesmen. Think of the Truman administration: Acheson, Kennan, Harriman, McCloy, Marshall, and the list continues. This is the caliber we’re looking for. Where are they? Let’s make the search even more difficult by adding other qualities: commitment to the national interest; wisdom and thoughtfulness; a sense of history; understanding of human nature; ability to communicate and convince; the ability to lead; intelligence; refusal to be petty; and let’s even add, a sense of humor.

Respect is gained by these and other qualities. We know big figures when we see them. They are big because they have earned our respect.

Reflection on the loss of statesmanship yields many possible causes: reluctance of big figures to submit to media “scrutiny” and bitter partisanship; low public esteem for politics; little challenge to public service; public disdain for politicians; political careerism; and a kind of Gresham’s Law in which mediocre figures drive out big ones. Whatever the reasons, the nation suffers by our inability to produce and promote statesmen–experienced and respected figures to whom we may turn for guidance through stagnant, unproductive, and bitter times.

You are invited to submit nominations of the kind of men and women you might turn to for advice and guidance if you found yourself in public office and confronted confusion at best and hostility at worst, if you truly wanted to prevail over negativity, if you wanted to do the best job for the people who selected you, if you wanted to leave a better country and world for your children.

There were such figures in my earlier years. They can, and hopefully do, exist. We shouldn’t have to search for them. True statesmen emerge. They do not hide. There must be a reason or reasons for their absence these days. I have to believe they are somewhere in our society. But we better find them…and soon.

24 Responses to “Nominations for Statesmen/women”

  1. Pat Boice Says:

    You have hit on a topic that has worried me for a considerable time! I can only think of a very few in public office currently for whom I have great respect: Senator Jim Webb, Senator Patrick Leahy, Senator Richard Lugar….

    For those in public office who sign a pledge to Grover Norquist that seemingly takes precedence over the oath of office are not in that category of trust and respect required for the description of “statesman/statesperson”.

  2. Curtis E. Mulkey Says:

    With all due respect Senator hart your Article omitted the ONE NAME that encompasses ALL of those “Virtues” AND “Abilities” and Sadly The President missed his “Golden Opportunity” by surrounding Himself with the wrong People. The MAN to which I referr is,( of Course) Franklin Delano ROOSEVELT !!

  3. Paul G Says:

    I humbly nominate an experienced and respected gentleman who, for over 25 years has humbly, wisely and efficiently managed a program to help reduce chiildhood hunger even in the midst of plenty – SOS founder, Billy Shore. Imagine him helping the new captain move our gigantic ship of state in the right and caring direction our republic needs right now!

  4. Tom Rosbrow Says:

    You are describing a general problem that also encompasses lack of public intellectuals, flatness of public discourse. For wise men, I’d think of Paul Volcker, sadly sidelined by Obama after appearing to be a top advisor during the primaries and election. Foreign policy- you for sure, maybe Chuck Hagel. Economists- if they were listened to, Simon Johnson and Joseph Stiglitz, both have great experience and articulateness. Public health: Paul Farmer, though he wasn’t able to be appointed head of AID.

  5. Tomas Agee Says:

    If I were president now under present circumstances, the first statesmen/women I would call in are Gary Hart, Robert Reich and Bill Moyers. I would want them to hammer out a bold new plan, or strategy, for America, both at home and abroad.

  6. Jim Engelking Says:

    I believe that a person must show respect to earn respect, and I believe that in his second term, President Obama will be respected not only aboad, but at home, because he shows respect to every person.

    I believe that Bill Clinton is greatly respected now, because he is focused on helping others.

    I greatly respect Jimmy Carter, a model of public service, and of living humbly and nobly.

    I suggest that recently retired Admiral Mike Mullen fulfills all your criteria, and I would hope that the President would appoint him, and that he would accept reponsibility to be his envoy to South Asia, filling the chasm left by the untimely death of Dick Holbrooke and more.

    I would suggest that Ken Salazar has all the qualities of statesmanship, as does Michael Bennet, and I hope that each of them continue to serve the public. I would put Kirsten Gillibrand in that category as well. Christine Lagarde and Angela Merkle already have both experience and respect.

    Now that three heroic women have been recognized so publicly by the Nobel Committee, I hope that we all will soon think of more stateswomen.

    I believe that Colin Powell had the opportunity to be a statesman, despite his insecuities, until he let Dick Cheney dominate him at a crucial moment, which destroyed his credibility.

    I agree with Mr Boice on Pat Leahy and Dick Lugar, and with Mr Rosbrow on Paul Volcker, Simon Johnson and Joseph Stiglitz.

    I think the current power structure, including corporate control of the communications media, coarsens our public debate to such an extent that the ordinary person just has no discernment, hence respect for public figures is lost easily.

  7. Joseph Furtenbacher Says:

    I’m sorry, but I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or perhaps merely shrug. Surely there are individuals who could be ‘turned to for wisdom and guidance during this period of economic stagnation and political confrontation’ who have done other things for the last few decades than swim in the cesspool that American politics has become (people like me, say – an example of that even rarer creature, a citizen of the world). But such people, if they’re any good, have almost certainly done other things with their time than shaking hands and kissing babies, and as a result, are practically guaranteed to have no significant name recognition whatsoever. Without well-known boosters, they’ll remain unknown, and everyone (but them) will get exactly the government they deserve…

    p.s. I’m guessing that I read you more than you read me.

  8. Nancy Lee Says:

    I nominate Paul Krugman for the economy. He is hated by the tea party, but that only makes him more credible. I also find Professor Jeffrey Sachs is a voice of sanity that is, unfortunately, ignored regarding the economy. I agree with the idea of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense and was sad when he retired from the Senate – he is a man of principle and intelligence.
    Bernie Sanders has it right when it comes to preserving Social Security and Medicare; he is the long, lost voice of labor and the dwindling middle class.
    Finally, Senator Mark Udall has consistently supported protecting our environment against the hordes of politicians and big corporations that will destroy the entire earth in the name of jobs and profits.

  9. Barb D. Says:

    I like some of the examples provided by several others. I would also like to suggest that Russ Feingold (former and perhaps future senator from WI) has many of the qualities of statesmanship, including his ability to work across the aisle on meaningful legislation and his principled stand on a number of issues, including campaign finance reform. Whether you agree with all of his votes or not, he appears to be that rare breed of politician who votes his conscience without concern about the possible political consequences.

    I think one of my regrets is that I’m having trouble calling to mind any women who might qualify as statesmen, at least in the U.S. It’s not that they aren’t capable of it — Dr. Hawa Abdi of Somalia comes to mind. And I’m watching Elizabeth Warren closely because I think she has many of the qualities that could qualify her for future statesmen status.

  10. Gary Hart Says:

    In response to Mr. Mulkey, I used the figures from the Truman years by way of illustration and did not intend to try to list all the great statesmen, including several presidents, from our national history.
    And to Mr. Furtenbacher, nothing in my blog suggested that you had to shake hands and kiss babies and “swim in the cesspool of politics” to qualify for statesmanship. Indeed, many great statesmen in history have never been politicians, at least in the loathsome sense you suggest.

  11. Forest Book Says:

    While it would be easy to grasp for the names of those whose character stands out now as among the best our nation has to offer: Ms. Warren, Mr. Gore, Mr. Hart, Ms. Maddow, or others from the roster of wise, and publicly known figures. May I suggest taking a hard look at the TED roster. There we see voices that need to be brought out further into the light of a culture about to collapse under the yoke of the effects of its own mutated dictates “business as usual” or “open for business” mentality. The passing of Mr. Jobs is a wake up call. Our next steps require fresh voices; not those schooled in the same methods that got us in this mess.

  12. Chris C Says:

    Part of the challenge is recognizing the extent to which personal biases can affect our assessments of excellence or achievement on criteria that are largely subjective.

    I would add ‘moral courage’ to the list of criteria. In this regard, people like Martin Luther King, Jr. would certainly qualify. In a more international context, two others for consideration could include Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi and the UK’s Tony Blair. (Yes, Tony Blair – that’s not a typo).

  13. Stephen D. Pillow Says:

    Senator Hart,

    Once again you have hit the nail squarely on the head. I have great difficulty in producing a list of candidates, although I do second the nomination of former President Jimmie Carter, and US Senator Richard Lugar. I would like to add one name to the list, that of former US Representative Lee H. Hamilton of Indiana, whose distinguished career both in the House of Representatives (1965-1998) and in private life since leaving the House in 1999 has been one of service to his country and to the people of this great nation.

  14. Debbie Lackowitz Says:

    There ARE persons out there. To add to Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, Elizabeth Warren, Al Gore, and yes even Rachel Maddow, I would add Richard Holbrooke. Worked in foreign policy for decades, and will be sorely missed. And yes I do believe that President Obama missed his opportunity when these people were overlooked for his Cabinet. One, just One of these would have been able to take the place of Tim Geithner, Larry Summers or anyone on the economic team. That folks is how good they are. And that is why he is floundering right now. He doesn’t have the input, and he certainly can’t come up with it himself. Perhaps Elizabeth Warren will shake things up when she takes that Massachusetts seat in the Senate. So it really isn’t the fact that there aren’t good, smart folks out there. They’re just not being tapped right now. President Clinton had both Robert Reich and Joseph Stiglitz in his Cabinet. Perhaps that’s why his administration was so successful? That would be my guess!

  15. Tim Davidson Says:

    Senator Hart–I noticed that you omitted what I would consider to be the bedrock principle of a “Statesman”: Integrity. The examples that you cite are folks who were not subjected to the level of examination that our current public figures are required to undergo. Had the American people known that Kennedy was having affairs, then his statesman status would have been revoked. As a direct result of the knowledge of how public figures operate, most public figures are not seen by the public as having the required integrity to be a Statesman. From the list above, consider two examples:
    Bill Clinton–lied to the American people and his own family.
    Paul Krugman–Senior adviser to ENRON.
    Long story short, I don’t believe anything that most ‘public figures’ say because they have proven that they will lie if it suits their aims. And to morph them into a “statesman” because they are old is a strange arrangement at best.

  16. Gary Hart Says:

    In response to both Chris C. and Mr. Davidson, I certainly would include moral courage and integrity to the qualities desired in statesmen. (Chris, you are invited to contribute further on Mr. Blair.) And I don’t recall suggesting that statesmen had to be “old”. The dictionary definition does include experience, and we all should agree with that. Difficult to be a statesman without much experience, particularly in public service. And it is a definite stretch to suggest that most public figures lie. Perhaps one of the reasons there are so few statesmen today is that we are trying too hard to judge public servants, a wide category, by imperfect knowledge of their private and personal lives. Statesmanship does not require perfection, and a good thing, since most of us, statesmen or not, are imperfect human beings.

  17. Pat Boice Says:

    Total agreement with your last response, Prof. Hart!! Too many people confuse sex with integrity or other adjectives! If one is a Christian (I am agnostic) it is helpful to learn the King David of Israel was loved by God…so the story goes…his sex life notwithstanding!!

  18. George Harben Says:

    Senator Hart, this is a very good question. I suggest that each person state their political party affiliation and suggest statesmen from the opposite party. Generally, we select people we agree with, but who are the ones we read and listen to from a different political party. In addition, any nominee should fit the requirements of your post.

    For me, first I am a republican. I read speeches, articles, books by and listen to Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, Gov. Lamm, Senator Hart, Anne-Marie Slaugher, and Dr. Brzezinski.

  19. Brian C McCarthy Says:

    I nominate former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo; he possesses most if not all of the qualities set forth in your third paragraph, particularly wisdom, a sense of history, commitment to the national interest, ability to lead, and certainly ability to communicate. The downside is that he would likely either refuse the honor or take a very long time to consider it.

    As for Republicans (as I am a Democrat), former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld comes to mind. He was strongly supported by members of both parties in both of his campaigns (winning 71% of the vote in Mass. as a Republican is not easy unless you have broad appeal), was nominated by a Democratic president to an ambassadorship, and, most important, took positions on social issues that were more than courageous for a member of his party, especially at that time.

  20. Paul G Says:

    In addition to the honorable Billy Shore – if he doesn’t get to Heaven none of us has a hope in hell :)- I nominate Citizeb Velma Hart:

    Statesmanship or stateswomanship may be the actionable ability of a leader to transcend individual pettiness for the benefit of our larger humman circle – our republic and our little world – but that appears an academic exercise to the merely cerebral president. Like Oz, he becomes barren when challenged by one of his once-adoring but disillusioned supporters, as Oct. 13, Guardian of London newspaper reports:

    [President Obama’s] inability to connect was exemplified last September during a televised town hall meeting when Velma Hart, a black woman – the demographic bedrock of Obama’s electoral base – expressed her frustration with his presidency. “I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted of defending you, defending your administration, defending the mantle of change that I voted for, and deeply disappointed with where we are right now.”

    Obama acknowledged hard times but went on to answer with a laundry list of achievements that failed to address the underlying tone of disillusionment in the question. A few months later Hart lost her job. “Here’s the thing,” she told me recently. “I didn’t engage my president to hug and kiss me. But what I did think I’d be able to appreciate is the change he was talking about during the campaign. I want leadership and decisiveness and action that helps this country get better. That’s what I want, because that benefits me, that benefits my circle, and that benefits my children.”

    “Do you think he’s decisive?” I asked her.

    “Ummm, sometimes … not always, no.”

  21. Chris R. Says:

    Before declaring who is or is not a statesman, we must first decide what the most important issues of recent years have been, and who has been on the right side of those issues. In my opinion, the imperial militarism and so called “free-trade” agreements have been the biggest disasters for the well being of the U.S. The military interventionism has been bleeding our treasury dry, and the neoliberal race to the bottom has been fueled by the trade deals which have exported American jobs, while also importing workers. The combined effect of these two issues has devastated the U.S. middle class.

    So with those guidelines, I nominate Ross Perot for predicting the “giant sucking” sound which was hidden by first the boom, and then the real estate boom. The collapse of these bubbles has exposed the fallacy of these bad deals, and has proved Perot right. The deindustrialization of America is a tragedy, which must be reversed. By passing more such “free trade” deals with Korea, Columbia, and Panama, Obama and the Congress are like alcoholics needing a “hair of the dog that bit them” in the morning to “cure” our economic troubles. These agreements have become an extreme version of trickle-down economics.

    I nominate Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul for their efforts to curb the banks and check the imperial presidency and endless military occupations. These two transcend partisanship and are true statesman. Let me nominate Arianna Huffington for her role in harnessing the power of the Internet to educate us with a truly progressive perspective, in contrast to the corporate controlled M$M.

    Internationally, I nominate the Kaczynski brothers, Lech and Jarosław, in Poland for resisting the siren call of joining the Euro zone. The wisdom of that decision is undeniable now.

  22. Kevin W. Says:

    Madeline Albright, for her, 1) Off-the-chart dedication to public service 2) incredible intelligence, understanding, and competency, and 3) personal humility, as any reader of her memoir could share.

  23. Paul G Says:

    Dear Senator Hart

    In recent weeks, reminiscent in many ways of your positive action in 1968 to end an unnecessary and immoral war, young people especially, are waking up to the media induced mind-numbing excessive occupation and intrusion of our lives, livelihoods and liberties.

    But they need the leadership and focus your dedicated life has blessed you to provide.

    We therefore need a national Democratic Party debate to help us rediscover and restore our principles and our very soul. Such a debate with you and the president will only strengthen the successful candidate to battle for our republic in the general election.

    Unlike the exhaustive travels and hectic scheduling such campaigns ‘require’ to reach most people, the age of the internet, facebook and twitter surely make such conventional travels unnecessary. As an old Celtic saying goes, “sometimes the slower we go, the faster we go!”

    Now, our young and young-at-heart seek true leadership for their own and future generations. But you’ve been hidden from the general public’s attention for almost 25 years – in major part by career-centered connivance of politicians of both major parties – at our republic’s expense. But now, as their boundless greed and $multi-billion-dollar campaigns show, “We” don’t matter.

    I hope you’ll soon address these matters directly to those young people who know something’s horribly wrong but seek to occupy our hearts and souls for direction towards a future envisioned not only by our founders but our most recent heroes, FDR, JFK, RFK and MLK.

    Forty years is generations-too-long to allow our ship of state to veer so far off course. As all citizens of Good Will know who’ve followed your amazing triumphs over seemingly insurmountable obstacles, you are the best prepared person on our planet to lead our republic right now.

    Let modern technology’s speed-of-light messengers do the traveling and redirecting as you conserve your energy for the truly important face-to-face events as you decide.

    We need the leadership and focus your dedicated life has blessed you to provide, not just for US but for all of us.



    We The People ask all citizens of Good Will to sign our petition to Senator Hart:

  24. Tom J. Flaherty Says:

    Ellizabeth Warren

    She will be even if VPOUS decides on a bid to the presitdency of the country, the first women to DO IT.

    Daily she shows the strongest, principled, drive I have yet seen. What makes this prdiction so easy is the clarity she has presented with a fine peacefull elegance that just breaks any that dare take her on. She won’t make the fatal error, she has no negatives, and as her consious efforts snowball she will be the one that appears to crush the facist corporate welfare state.

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