As usual, the bloviating about the 2016 presidential election has begun way early. And, as usual, the bloviating is focused on who will be a candidate for the nation’s highest office. In other words, as usual, the bloviating is leader-centric. Already we are fixating on a few individuals specifically – Clinton, Biden, Warren, Bush, Romney, Christie, Cruz, Kasich, Huckabee, Paul, Perry, Walker – rather than on the situation more generally.
But a good argument can be made for the proposition that the outcome of the next presidential election will be determined not by a small number of leaders, or, for that matter, by a larger number of followers. Rather the outcome is more likely to be determined by the context within which by then we’re embedded.
Here is an example of context as key. If between now and November 2016 the United States is at peace, and if the homeland has remained free from attack, the Democrats will benefit. Barack Obama and his putative successor will be able to claim that for eight years the Democrats have kept Americans free from harm.
If, on the other hand, the U.S. proves vulnerable to terrorism, Obama’s earlier claim that extremism has been defeated will prove tragically hollow. It will prove, or appear to prove, that the Democrats did not take the terrorist threat sufficiently seriously. Further, given their willingness to be more militantly aggressive abroad, and more militantly defensive at home, the Republicans will profit. The Republicans will profit politically to the degree that the U. S. seems weak militarily.
Our proclivity remains the same – to fixate on leaders. But the smarter approach is the systemic approach. For leadership is a system with not just one part – but three. To get the present and project the future is to look long and hard at leaders. It is also to look long and hard at followers, at others. And it is to look long and hard at the context within which leaders and followers necessarily are situated.