April 21, 2015

970 words 5 mins read

Approaching Excellence

Could it be?

Am I reading this right?

Has anyone ever surprised you with a wish? A wish that defied logic?

Yesterday, a friend wrote of his concerns about Eric Greitens, the Navy SEAL, humanitarian, Rhodes Scholar, charity founder, and former boxer who’s considering a run for Missouri Governor.

His concern began: “Most all GOP candidates proudly trumpet their positions . . . “

He was right, of course. Almost.

Almost all politicians trumpet positions—or, at least, platitudes that sound like positions. And not just Missouri Republicans, either. Democrats do it, too. And Libertarians and Green Party. They all shout quotes Jefferson never said. They all call themselves names that poll well.

Poll Positions

Last year at a St. Louis County Republican picnic, I heard about 30 candidates line up, one after another, and announce “I am a Constitutional Conservative.”

Every one of them said it. I heard “constitutional conservative” so many times, I was tempted to grab the microphone and tell the crowd, “I am a unconstitutional giraffe” just for variety’s sake.

Turns out, some Republican pollster had just conducted a survey of likely primary voters that found “constitutional conservative” was a phrase Republican voters liked.

So much for independent, serious thought.

Despite the fact that slugger Barry Bonds liked to tee off on inside fastballs, Hall of Famer Bob Gibson said he’d pitch Bonds nothing but inside fastballs. “I like chocolate ice cream,” Gibby told Bob Costas, “but I don’t want fifty gallons of it dumped on my head.”

I’ll bet the people who sat through that barrage of constitutional conservatism answered the next poll differently.

My friend was right, as I said. Most politicians all trumpet the same notes. But is that really what we want in our next governor?

**Ordinary Politicians **

If you expect Eric Greitens to be like all other Missouri Republican politicians, I’m afraid you’ll be sorely disappointed. Eric Greitens is anything but another typical politician. And if Missouri voters want more of the same, Greitens will struggle.

Ordinary politicians don’t know Seneca from Cato.

Ordinary politicians never made it through BUD/S.

Ordinary politicians never worked with Mother Teresa or with homeless, addicted teens in Bolivia.

Ordinary politicians don’t turn down eight-figure jobs in finance to sleep on air mattresses while starting a charity for veterans.

Ordinary politicians don’t write 60,000 words worth of letters to one friend to help that friend through crisis.

Ordinary politicians don’t start their day with pull-ups wearing a weight vest to increase the difficulty.

If you thought Eric Greitens would follow the Missouri GOP playbook for statewide candidates, you don’t know anything about Eric Greitens.

Some Won’t Want to Hear

Eric Greitens is a candidate unlike any other. I’m not saying he is (or will be) the best. I’m saying he is cut from a different cloth. Or, more accurately, he cut himself from a different cloth.

Where ordinary politicians promise less work, Eric Greitens talks of a higher purpose.

Where ordinary politicians promise less pain, Eric Greitens admits suffering is part of life.

Where ordinary politicians trumpet their own greatness, Eric Greitens speaks of your untapped potential.

Where ordinary politicians tell us to blame others, Eric Greitens reminds us to look in the mirror.

Where ordinary politicians ask us to empower them, Eric Greitens admonishes us to strengthen ourselves.

Where ordinary politicians caution against risk, Eric Greitens leads us toward the road less travelled.

And while most GOP candidates mindlessly parrot stock phrases that poll well, Eric Greitens inspires with ageless wisdom of great philosophers.

Of course, Greitens will follow some of the formulas of our political process. He must. His positions will emerge on issues that a governor must execute.

But, for God’s sake, people, it’s April 2015, sixteen months until the primary. Ronald Reagan didn’t announce his candidacy for president until November 1979—two months before the Iowa caucuses.

Before you worry about Eric Greitens’ position on your pet issue, why not take some time to learn Greitens’ philosophy of life? Why not read Resilience to discover the thinking that makes Greitens who he is? And why not challenge ordinary politicians to document their fundamental beliefs the way Greitens has?

Issues and positions are transient, squishy things. What seems a life-or-death matter today becomes trivia the morning 19 men fly passenger planes into buildings. If a politician’s positions emerge from “truths” arrived at in yesterday’s opinion poll, the politician will surrender those positions at the first shift in sentiment.

What makes Eric Greitens different from all other Missouri Republicans is not his positions, but his mental foundation and the strength of the timbers that support his beliefs.

Approaching Excellence

I don’t mean to belittle anyone’s convictions or the issues and policies that grow from their convictions. But I do expect serious people to think more deeply about the men and women they support and elect than whether a candidate “has said what I want him to say?”

Anyone can read from an index card words we want to hear; leaders say from their hearts what needs to be said. More importantly, true leaders do what must be done.

Besides, if you don’t know a candidate’s character and heart, his positions are meaningless. If the candidate lacks the character and drive to execute his positions, it makes no difference what those positions are. The world won’t change.

If you want Missouri and her people to flourish in ways we never have, don’t vote for a politician who does what all politicians do.

If you want to live in a society that dances at the outer edges of excellence, as Eric Greitens might describe it, you will have to put aside childish wants and elect leaders who live at the outer edges of excellence themselves.

Ordinary is not what Eric Greitens promises. But what’s wrong with excellence?