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The Role of Leadership in a Deliberative System

Democracy
Political Leadership
Political Theory
Michael Morrell
University of Connecticut
Michael Morrell
University of Connecticut
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Abstract

Scholars have begun to examine deliberative democracy at a systemic level, which brings with it new concerns and questions for deliberative theory. In mini-public deliberation, while there are organizers and conveners, moderators are often the “leaders” of citizen deliberation. Their role, however, is, by design, very limited; most importantly, they are not themselves a party to the deliberations. At the macro-level, in contrast, leadership is a vitally important part of politics and democracy. In this paper, I explore the role of leadership in a deliberative system, and question whether leaders can behave at the macro-level as moderators behave in mini-public deliberation. I establish that the very idea of leadership is in tension with many of the ideals of a deliberative system. In order to explore these theoretical claims further, I engage in an empirical case study of the leadership displayed by President Barack Obama of the United States. I establish that President Obama was committed to a deliberative ideal upon entering office, and he engaged in policy-making approaches that cohered with this ideal on most of the major pieces of legislation he supported during his first term. Yet this approach led many to brand him as a weak and ineffectual leader. While he has only recently begun his second term, his initial stances on gun control legislation and immigration reform, as well as his Second Inaugural address, embody the deliberative ideal to a lesser degree, but they have drawn praise for his strong leadership. President Obama demonstrates how leadership, which is nearly absent in mini-public deliberation, becomes a highly important issue at the macro-level of the deliberative system. The problem that deliberative theorists face is adducing a workable and consistent theory of deliberative leadership, a task that is likely going to be very difficult.