Some years back, I learned a bit about Chaos Theory. One favorite parable of its advocates, is the notion that a butterfly flapping its wings in one part of the world can lead to torrential storms in another part of the world. The claim is specious, of course, for two major reasons: First, the planet we inhabit happens to be rather a bit tougher than the delicate balance so often claimed by mental nerfheads like Al Gore and similar Intelligentsia wannabes. Also, the chain of events cited in this type of scenario ignores the effect of other relevant factors. For instance, there are literally thousands of forest fires each year in the world, which are never fought by even a single fire fighter, but they die out because of factors like natural firebreaks, heavy rain, lack of fuel, and wind patterns. A great many logical-sounding explanations simply don't work in the real world. The most vicious butterfly in history remains a butterfly, and there are clear limits to what a butterfly may do, incidentally or deliberately.
When we apply this to Politics, we see the emergence of many patterns and phenomena, but for this article, I would submit that in general, we see three types of politicians: The Selfish, the Idealist, and the Leader. This is not to judge them overly kindly or harshly; each official faces a situation pretty much unique to its time and place. But there is a pattern of method I see in the way these officials address their responsibilities.
The Selfish politicians will meet their responsibilities more or less, but are known for doing things in whatever way gets them credit, and fits into their existing plans. The best recent example of such a politician is President Clinton, who was able to produce legislation, display canny tactics, and get his way even when he lacked a majority of support (note that in neither of his two election victories, did he match or exceed 50% of the vote). But Clinton accomplished no lasting work; as an example, look at his attempt to reform Healthcare. When Clinton's socialist approach failed in 1993, he simply discarded the effort and moved on to other things. In comparison, George W. Bush accomplished more in his first term for Healthcare reform, than Clinton managed in two. Other examples include President Coolidge and President Andrew Johnson.
The Idealist politicians have grand notions of what they hope to accomplish, but often fail to understand the pragmatic requirements, or the limits of what can be done. A recent example of that sort, is President G.H.W. Bush, who envisioned a Middle East at peace after the first Gulf War, but who failed to foresee the enmity of repressive states in the region, or the duplicity of his political opponents. Like Clinton, the first President Bush failed to establish any lasting results from his work. Other examples include President Wilson and President Carter.
The Leaders are politicians who set aside their personal preferences for the good of the nation, who choose a course because it is necessary, and who are willing to face personal loss in order to do what is right. It's no surprise to people who know me, that I consider President George W. Bush such a man, but to present a better example, I would submit Presidents Kennedy and Reagan. While some would suggest that the two men had little in common, I would say that in both cases, what the men wanted when they entered office had to be set aside in favor of what the country needed. Kennedy was a Democrat who cut taxes; Reagan was a Republican who made treaties with the Soviets. Kennedy was willing to risk his political future to face down Khruschev; Reagan was willing to risk his political future to face down Andropov and Chernenko.
The lesson for today? George W. Bush and John F. Kerry are two completely different kinds of politicians. I warrant that Americans recognized the difference, and chose accordingly.