Military experience no guarantee of being a good political leader

Published 6:06 am Thursday, April 19, 2018

One of the candidates for the office of Boyle County Judge is a retired general. Very likely, his supporters will tout his candidacy precisely because he was a general on the theory that it takes talent and leadership skills to rise to such an elevated rank. There are, however, reasons why precisely such a background is not a positive but a drawback.
Generals have been trained by the military to respond in one of two ways: unquestioning obedience to those of a higher rank and with the expectation of instant obedience when issuing a command to those of lower rank. It is a hierarchical system. Power is embodied in an individual and flows in a linear direction. This hierarchy of command and obedience is reinforced daily, even hourly for decades across a military career.
By contrast to the military, the fiscal court is a body of equals. It works not by command but by deliberation, discussion, seeking evidence, compromise, give and take. It is democratic, egalitarian. One bows not to the chairperson but to the will of the majority, a majority ultimately responsible to the entire community of voters.
Can a career military leader function well in an egalitarian setting? Surely, it is at least theoretically possible, but is it likely? Are old and entrenched habits so easily discarded, especially in a moment of heated debate? You will recall that we have had recent experience with a retired military person in an elected position in the city. What is your memory about how that worked out?

Milton Scarborough

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