One notable aspect of Sandy’s assault on the Eastern Seaboard was the self-assurance of the two political leaders who found themselves at the center of storm response: New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
Those two might be the bluntest, least afraid political executives in the nation today.
The November edition of The Atlantic magazine offers a revealing interview with Bloomberg, done before the storm. Among the provocative things the mayor says in the piece were these words on leadership:
“Leadership is about doing what you think is right and then building a constituency behind it. It is not doing a poll and following from the back.”
“People aren’t good at describing what is in their own interest … What leaders should do is make decisions as to what they think is in the public interest based on the best advice that they can get, and then try and build a constituency and bring it along.”
That stance often gets decried these days as arrogance and elitism. But it’s an attitude that helps account for the overall popularity of Bloomberg, and Christie as well. Each guy often says and does things a lot of people dislike. But they are generally seen as people of authentic conviction – the rarest commodity in politics today.
This riddle of leadership – Do you find out what people want and serve it to them, or give them what they need whether they know it or not? – has also been the central question of journalism during the lifetime I’ve spent in the business.
The old guard in the craft clearly believed in the elite gatekeeper’s role – and that earned them no end of mockery as “the filter” and “the lamestream media” as technological disruption swept through the sector.
Recall that Bloomberg made many of his billions in journalism. In the interview, he maintains that the role of journalists as well as political leaders is to exercise their own informed judgment as to what’s most important, not to submit to the whim of the crowd.
The Republican Party has increasingly tied its brand to the notion that expertise is malignant bunk, and the common sense of the masses should rule. The last election came as something of a rebuke to that view.
The popularity of leaders such as Bloomberg and Christie is another sign that the winds might be changing.