BEST IN SHOW
We conduct worldwide beauty contests and sporting events (Olympics), offer prestigious Nobel Prizes and stage international film festivals, all of these open to aspirants from around the globe. So what’s missing? Why hasn’t anyone thought to honor the best of the world’s national leaders? Are not the lives of over seven billion people greatly affected by the capacities and intentions of those who govern them? Would not such a competition, and the recognition attached to those selected, provide incentives for leaders to improve their performances as well as the lives of their people?
Just as the academy awards recently expanded to ten the number of films eligible for “Best Movie of the Year” we might consider nominating an equal number who would then gather together as finalists at yearly ceremonies (perhaps before a special session of the United Nations and televised around the globe). Just imagine the tension in the hall as the cameras zoom in on the hopefuls (each of whose achievements would be summarized in a brief documentary film) as they await the announcement of the winner or winners (perhaps awarded with gold, silver and bronze globes).
How are these individuals to be judged? No simple matter for sure. What should we expect from them? Their performances need to be scrutinized in those areas, over which leaders have a measure of influence, viz effectively communicating to their people, maintaining domestic tranquility, elevating living standards, tolerating an often vitriolic opposition, reducing corruption, presenting a positive vision of the future, and innovating while maintaining valued traditions. In foreign affairs candidates must show respect for the sovereignty of other nations, cooperate on matters of mutual interest, maintain world stability and aid nations in crises or those requiring sustained assistance.
We are setting a high bar, but remember, it’s all relative and we will take into consideration measureable progress toward these desirable goals. And we’ll probably choose to assign varying weight to individual factors. How, for example, should we measure a country cracking down on regional opponents, but at the same time raising living standards? What about a national leader who has seen to the advancement of women , but who has restricted press freedoms?
A further complication – Who will do the judging? A worldwide referendum would doubtless be unreliable as peoples in the most populated nations might dominate the voting. More likely we’d rely upon “experts” who would evaluate relevant data (e.g., levels of unemployment, poverty, corruption, citizen satisfaction, economic progress, opposition freedoms, etc.) and combine it with their own worldly knowledge and experiences. But wouldn’t these experts be inclined to favor their own countries – a bias probably impossible to eliminate? Still we’d attempt to recruit an “internationalist” panel who have already shed a reflexive devotion of their mother country and who’ve long labored for organizations with worldwide perspectives. We should probably select folks from institutions such as the United Nations, the World Bank, International Red Cross, as well as overseas news correspondents, multi-national corporations, the European Community, the African Union, etc.
An award process and annual ceremony such as we’ve proposed cannot be accomplished overnight. Still knowing that such a competition is underway might have a salutary effect on the policies and actions of leaders around the world.
For a test run, I conducted an impromptu survey of certain current leaders to preview how this sorting process might work. The results of this partial, unscientific “world tour” were not, however, encouraging. Italy with Berlusconi nearly out of the picture, and with its long history of governmental instability did not merit a second look. Vladimir Putin doubtlessly controls the fortunes and future of Russia, but leaning upon traditionalists and tolerating little dissent, he offers no bold blueprint for his nation’s advancement. Nuri-al-Maliki in Iraq is not as yet completely out of the running, but the daily sectarian violence across the nation and his high-handed actions have dashed hopes that a post-war Iraq will be made stable and secure. David Cameron of Great Britain has staked his leadership on the hope that austerity policies will lift his nation out of its economic funk. Thus far, it has not worked – and then there is the vote on Scottish independence looming in 2014. South African leader Jacob Zuma has as yet been unable to overcome the forces of corruption, the high incidence of crime, lagging land reforms and demoralizing inequality. President Francois Holland of France has disappointed many of his own followers, significantly underperformed in public opinion polls while facing the severe challenges of high unemployment and substantial budget deficits. Obviously disqualified are such pariahs as Bashar Assad, a Syrian, and Kim Jung Un in North Korea.
We would not sleight, though not necessarily embrace, such wily and resourceful leaders as Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan, King Abdullah in Jordan and Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. And we’d best wait to see how recently elevated heads of state, such as President Enrique Nieto of Mexico, Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan, China’s Xi Jinping and Hassan Rowhani of Iran perform. Also, we should not overlook Scandinavia since most everyone concedes they do things right there. Sweden is usually singled out; still its Prime Minister Frederick Reinfeld suddenly faces an uncharacteristic upsurge in anti-immigrant sentiment that has severely roiled an otherwise benign national landscape.
So, are there any serious contenders for the top spots? President Barack Obama, despite disappointment and an embittered opposition must be considered. And surely Angela Merkel, the unquestioned leader of Germany, indeed of Western Europe, deserves serious attention.
But can we fill all ten slots as originally proposed? Was this too ambitious a project? Must we reduce expectations or consider inflating the grading system? And if so, what would that say about the current crop of leaders – and the state of the world?