The radio talk show host blubbered on the other day about how this country is going to hell in a handbasket because we don’t have real leaders anymore.
He offered up a few examples of people he said weren’t afraid to take a stance — Truman, F.D.R., Reagan — leaders he credited with saying what they thought rather than what their pollster thought should be said. Of course, the host’s listeners chimed in quickly, agreeing that today’s leaders — national, state and local — couldn’t lead their way out of a paper bag.
My trip ended, and so did the show. I tended to agree, though. It’s a rare politician or corporate leader these days who says what he or she thinks, darn the consequences. After all, being a leader is a job like any other, and you don’t get paid if you can’t keep the job. We say we want straight-talking leaders, but let’s face it: Most of the people we elect are basically “yes men”, telling us what we want to hear, not what we need to hear.
Later that night, my wife was watching a rerun of “The Rifleman”, a black-and-white half-hour of wild west action and morality from the 1880s featuring an iron-chinned widowed cowboy, his young son, and a Winchester rifle that practically fired itself.
In terms of a leader who said what he thought regardless of the consequences, Lucas McCain didn’t take a back seat to anyone.
Over the course of five years and 168 episodes, the theme was basically the same: Bad guys come to the town of North Fork, frightening the good but basically gutless townspeople and sheriff, forcing McCain and his Winchester to step up and make things right.
I don’t think McCain ever fired first, but it was a rare episode when he didn’t have to shoot someone. He made some mistakes over the years, but he didn’t back down to any man or any challenge in any situation. I don’t think there has ever been a stronger, more consistent, tell-it-like-it-is leader than Lucas McCain.
But the way he solved problems probably wouldn’t cut it today. He wasn’t particularly diplomatic. He didn’t believe in endless negotiating with the bad guys. The body count was pretty significant. His young son was exposed to all kinds of violence. And to top it all off, the treatment of minorities generally was not politically correct. The show probably wouldn’t even make it on the air today.
So what would those of us hankering for a strong leader do if Lucas McCain stepped up to solve our problems today? Probably about the same thing the sheriff did in all of those episodes so long ago: Step back, wait until the dust settled and then buddy up to the last guy standing. And we’d stand there next to him until the next episode, when we’d lose our courage all over again…