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Leadership crisis imperils our virus response, but there's hope

Dwight Eisenhower

Without leaders like Dwight Eisenhower we will once again find ourselves on the precipice of a "world devoid of hope, freedom, economic stability, morals, values and human decency," writes M. Dane Waters.

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Waters last month created the Prosperity Through Leadership PAC to support candidates willing to "take critical action to create prosperity for all citizens." He has been a consultant on political and advocacy campaigns in six continents.

"We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent." These are the words of John McCain, who understood that the wounds of war could only be healed by strong leadership based on ideals in the best interest of the people.

The late Republican senator from Arizona was not the only McCain to witness the horrors of war. Two weeks ago, on May 8, marked 75 years since the end of World War II in Europe — a war that was brutal, horrific and left a lasting scar on our planet. A war, when McCain's namesake grandfather was a Navy admiral, that taught pure evil does exist in this world along with goodness, fortitude, sacrifice and the thirst for freedom from tyranny.

It also gifted the world tested leadership, which was critical in bringing the planet back from the precipice of being lost economically, socially and morally. The ultimate example of this was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served as supreme allied commander and led the world to victory before becoming president.

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"To take your own part but never be arrogant; to be polite and courteous but never servile; to value true friends above material things, and to be honest and loyal to those people and teachings that command your respect." Eisenhower wrote these words to his grandson David in 1962. These core principles are the foundation of leadership and the basis of how he lived his life, how he waged war and how he taught others to lead.

Today, just as after World War II, we desperately need that same type of leadership. Not to help us emerge from the horrors of war, but from the devastating consequences of the novel coronavirus pandemic. The world as we know it has changed. The economic and social implications of the virus are yet to be even remotely understood, but we know the future will be difficult.

The worst is still ahead of us. And without leaders like Eisenhower and McCain, we will once again find ourselves on the same precipice as we did 75 years ago. It's a precipice that — if we cross without strong leadership — will leave the world devoid of hope, freedom, economic stability, morals, values and human decency.

In many places, the pandemic's impact will only complicate and exacerbate current problems. The United Nations predicts starvation of "biblical" proportions. Places like Nigeria — already suffering from devastating unemployment, lack of food, religious conflict and rampant terrorism — will no doubt be closer to civil war and rebellion because of the economic consequences of the virus. This is one of the reasons the country needs leaders, like its former vice president Atiku Abubakar and current Sen. Ben Murray-Bruce, who have championed critical reforms that helped Nigeria prosper.

Consider Guyana, where the international community has accused President David Granger of rampant election fraud to retain power. Granger is using the fear of Covid-19 as justification for delaying the challenges to the election result. But there's reason for optimism these illegal actions will be rectified because of the leadership of two former presidents, Donald Ramotar and Bharrat Jagdeo, who fought relentlessly for democracy and the rule of law while in office.

Thankfully, we have seen this type of leadership around the world. Former Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman increased prosperity in Ukraine despite an ongoing war with Russia. Former Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Kau has fought for decades for Taiwan's independence from the tyranny of neighboring China.

Like McCain and Eisenhower, Groysman and Kau are no longer in positions of authority to help lead the response to the pandemic. And Ukraine's government has clearly failed and is moving the country into an economic abyss. But fortunately, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has had success with the challenges of Covid-19.

On Capitol Hill, senators including Republican Mitt Romney of Utah and Democrat Doug Jones from my home state of Alabama are making a difference because they have the people's best interest at heart — not their own. In Puerto Rico, Gov. Wanda Garced is trying to bring prosperity to the people even as the coronavirus compounds problems caused by Hurricane Maria and numerous deadly earthquakes.

Why single out these past and present leaders? As former Justice Potter Stewart said of pornography in a famous 1964 opinion, "I shall not today attempt further to define ... but I know it when I see it." I have had the honor to work with many mentioned here and have seen firsthand the leadership qualities they possess.

But leadership means different things to different people. There is no better example than my mom. I was always surprised at who my mother thought provided strong leadership. But she knew it when she saw it and her example reminds me: Just because we all view leadership differently does not mean a person is wrong in their support for an individual. Regardless of who we individually view as a good leader, we need someone who can rally the people to unify — not divide them during the darker days ahead.

In the decades since VE Day, the world not only survived but prospered in most countries. What made this possible was strong leadership, by Eisenhower and all the others listed here. If we support the strong leaders of today, maintain the leadership values of those we have lost, and nurture a corps of future leaders, there's no doubt our world will pull back from the precipice and instead find "peace, progress, and prosperity".

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Our question about the price of freedom received a light response. We asked:

What price have you, your friends or your family paid for the freedom we enjoy? And what price would you willingly pay?

It was a question born out of the horror of images from Ukraine. We hope that the news about the Jan. 6 commission and Ketanji Brown Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination was so riveting that this question was overlooked. We considered another possibility that the images were so traumatic, that our readers didn’t want to consider the question for themselves. We saw the price Ukrainians paid.

One response came from a veteran who noted that being willing to pay the ultimate price for one’s country and surviving was a gift that was repaid over and over throughout his life. “I know exactly what it is like to accept that you are a dead man,” he said. What most closely mirrored my own experience was a respondent who noted her lack of payment in blood, sweat or tears, yet chose to volunteer in helping others exercise their freedom.

Personally, my price includes service to our nation, too. The price I paid was the loss of my former life, which included a husband, a home and a seemingly secure job to enter the political fray with a message of partisan healing and hope for the future. This work isn’t risking my life, but it’s the price I’ve paid.

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Given the earnest question we asked, and the meager responses, I am also left wondering if we think at all about the price of freedom? Or have we all become so entitled to our freedom that we fail to defend freedom for others? Or was the question poorly timed?

I read another respondent’s words as an indicator of his pacifism. And another veteran who simply stated his years of service. And that was it. Four responses to a question that lives in my heart every day. We look forward to hearing Your Take on other topics. Feel free to share questions to which you’d like to respond.

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