TIEs: Truly Important Elections-My 6 Choices

· Below are my choices for Truly Important Elections—the TIEs. They are 1800, 1864, 1896, 1940, and 1980. Feel free to suggest others. Be sure to include a short explanation of why you think so.

· 1800. Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams in what was the world’s first example of a peaceful transition of power from one perceived organized group to another. In other governmental systems the shift of power usually resulted in violence of varying degrees of intensity, extent, and organization. This election, the third in the American experience under the Constitution government, marked the solidification of the American Revolution. Note my inclusion of the word “perceived”. There was much that Jefferson and Adams shared, probably as much as what separated or divided them.

· How the US presidential election of 1800 might apply to your leadership today: the intensity of pursuing the same promotion (i.e. the presidency) caused two good friends, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, to terminate their friendship. Several years later, they reconciled. If you have a friendship that has ended over a dispute, think about the need to repair it. What are your friendships worth to you? What are you willing to give up to lose one or to regain one?

-1840. Very odd choice, I know. Definitely against the grain. I view this election is significant for some interesting reasons. First, it was the first that used a lot of the campaign techniques that look very familiar today, such as publicity stunts, corny symbols, and outrageous public relations tactics. Second, the outcome immediately led to the first constitutional crisis of the presidency; William Henry Harrison’s sudden death began a response that ultimately culminated in the 25th amendment to the Constitution. Third, a chain of events began that led to the unraveling of the existing political party system, a key point in the spiral toward civil war. Fourth, the outcome produced the most jolting shift in political party control without any vestige of the Revolutionary Generation to cushion the blow.

-How the US presidential election of 1840 might apply to your leadership today: everything can change, in at least some fashion, in the blink of an eye. You might have it all planned out in your mind, having used the best effort, the best data, and the best input. And it can all blow away in the time it takes to read this sentence. You have to be ready to pick up the pieces and move on, making sense of it as you go. Have you ever done this?

· 1864. I don’t include both of Lincoln’s elections as president in 1860 because neither side (American on one side and emerging Confederate on the other) really expected that a war would occur or that, if it occurred, it would be lengthy. The opposite is true for 1864. By then the war was a blood-letting, intentional, horrific, and pursued to the ghastly end. The war’s conclusion pivoted on who won the American presidential election, Lincoln or his opponent, General George B. McClellan. Each candidate offered divergent goals for ending the war.

· How the US presidential election of 1864 might apply to your leadership today: for all of his ability to communicate, Lincoln’s victory in 1864 really depended on American military victories on the battlefield. Fortunately for him, he got them in the military efforts of armies led by William Sherman and Phil Sheridan. You may be as gifted and skilled as Lincoln but your biggest and most important successes will pivot on the efforts of other people. What is going on elsewhere right now that could help you step toward a significant success?

· 1896. This is a most unusual moment because of attitude, something that I referenced in one of the videos. The United States was on the verge of a new attitude about many aspects of national and community life. Not least among them was the nation’s way of wealth and its way of the world. William McKinley and, most importantly, the people who followed him into national political office as members of his inner circle and affiliated supporters, viewed the United States as producing wealth through the industrial revolution. At the same time, McKinley’s legions saw the United States as a major world power. Much of what the US would be more than 100 years later can be traced back to this pair of decisions and trends.

· How the US presidential election of 1896 might apply to your leadership today: McKinley, while loosely supportive of these two outlooks, wasn’t exactly their foremost champion. The people around him took that role. In some cases McKinley and his team and key followers were in sync. In other cases, they weren’t. It wasn’t an issue until the wound of an assassin’s bullet turned fatal and McKinley’s vice-president, Theodore Roosevelt, succeeded as President. Then, the gaps as well as the connections between McKinley and his team became dreadfully important. Who are your strongest team members and what do they hope to do as a result of your leadership and their decision to be among your followers? When you leave as leader, what do you think they’ll do?

· 1940. The American people, or at least a majority of those who voted in the presidential election, chose to set aside the time-honored precedent of presidents limiting themselves to no more than two four-year terms in office. The tradition had started with George Washington in 1795. Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to seek an historic third term, and did so successfully. And yet, unlike other major world powers or nation-states at the time, such as Germany, Italy, Japan, or even Russia or Spain, Roosevelt’s hold on the national executive office did not produce a cult-like following. The reader with a keen sense of history will observe here that I’ve chosen not to offer 1932, Roosevelt’s first presidential election victory, as one of my “TIEs” (Truly Important Elections). Despite the shift toward a larger, activist government embodied in the 1932 win, I believe the comparative dissipation of a cultish FDR following in 1940 is an overlooked point in American presidential election history. I also think this particular election has a lot of similarities to ours in 2012. The Democrat incumbent claimed that his Republican opponent was wealthy, overly connected to big corporations, and out of touch with ordinary citizens. The Democrat incumbent also stated that he was better suited to guiding the nation in a world of chaos and uncertainty. Finally, the Democrat incumbent had to explain why the economic recovery was so long in coming and so anemic up to that time.

· How the US presidential election of 1940 might apply to your leadership today: Roosevelt argued to the American public that the crisis of world affairs—the outbreak of war in Europe and China—demanded his re-election as president, his continuance in the White House. He used the reality of events external to the nation to justify the rejection of tradition and precedent internal to the nation. Do you do that as a leader? Are you comfortable with being open and forthright about such changes or do you choose to keep them quiet and out of the limelight? What is the effect of external events on your position of leadership?

· 1980. No single President with a conscious strategy of action and policy—again, note my wording—affected world history as much as Ronald Reagan. Reagan’s economic timing was fortunate: his embrace of lesser regulation and lower taxation was happily and unknowingly coincidental with the emergence of new technologies and organizational techniques. It was in foreign policy and foreign affairs that Reagan most purposely and intentionally bucked the headwinds and charted both his own course and timetable. His combination of confrontation, negotiation, and innovation in dealing with the Soviet Union won the Cold War for the United States and the West. He changed the map of the world and of the mind.

· How the US presidential election of 1980 might apply to your leadership today: Reagan sought the Presidency when a large percentage of the American public was discouraged and disheartened. This attitude permeated the two halves of the polity’s life: domestic affairs and foreign affairs. Incredibly, Reagan changed public attitudes on both fronts. When was the last time when you, as a leader, asked your followers to believe in a goal, an end, or a destiny that totally rejected the current state of opinion and condition? What prompted you to do it? How did you proceed?

· Lastly, permit me a few words on my definition of TIEs (Truly Important Elections). I don’t refer to the emergence of new voting coalitions for one party or another. That’s the usual way, influenced as it is by political science. It’s one way of doing it, I grant you, but it’s just not my way. I’m honing in on something of a higher order. I’m emphasizing the combination of issues, trends, decisions, and actions; their place in a particular point in time; and their overall expression in a presidential candidacy, election, and governance.