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Perceived Greatness Of A Political Leader - With A Free Essay Review
PROMPT: "The perceived greatness of any political leader has more to do with the challenges faced by the leader than with any of his or her inherent skills and abilities."
The magnitude of obstacles overcome by a leader define his political success. Impressive personal skills and abilities, while important for every leader, do not determine a leader's impact as greatly as their response in the face of adversity. Charming charisma, impeccable style, and eloquent speeches will help one get into office, however, it is the actions they take once elected that serve as a litmus test for success.
When historians recall the past, it is segmented into eras based on the world's events, such as wars and economic rises or falls. The fact that Franklin D. Roosevelt was in office during World War II overshadows the number of years he served. Likewise, no one will ever forget that John F. Kennedy was in the White House when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon. Few people can cite the years that Abraham Lincoln was President, but everyone recognizes that he won the Civil War for the Union. Significant events, not concrete tenures, define nations, as do its leader.
Similarly, when a threat challenges people, they look to their leaders for guidance. Whatever current policy was being debated by Congress at the time was eclipsed by the terrorist attacks on September 11. The most devastating event in American history rattled the confidence of the country. Citizens questioned their safety in their own homes. Hence, George W. Bush addressed the nation with stern confidence saying that America would recover and rebuild. He exuded the stability that all citizens clamored for.
During his election, many people in the media criticized George W. Bush for his intelligence and history. Mere months after winning election as President, he was thrust into handling the most difficult situation the country has ever faced. All the talk of his shortcomings ceased and Americans followed his precedent. Discussions shifted from his imperfect past to the actions he took to help the nation recover and to prosecute the organizers of the September 11 attacks.
With the election coming in November, it is very easy to get lost in the smear campaigns against the candidates' characters. It must also be remembered that political leaders are mortal people too; imperfect like everyone else. No matter how elaborate the swearing in celebration will be January, what will be remembered most from the next term of office is how the President tackles the problems facing our country.
When an argument depends on examples, it is very important that the examples be strong and their significance explained. You argue in your second paragraph that significant events "define nations." The expression "define nations" is a bit vague in itself, but the larger problem with the argument is that it is unclear how you want its relevance for your thesis to be understood. My guess is that you would say that since the recorded history of a nation focuses on significant events, and in particular on challenging events, we end up according a higher place in the chronicle of great leaders to those who played a role in the outcome of those events. Perhaps you also think, as a corollary, that we just tend to forget leaders who were not involved in the outcome of significant events, or we have no reason to remember them. Those are reasonable claims, but they are only implicit in your essay, and they ought to be explicit. They are implicit, of course, in part just in your choice of leaders, leaders many people consider to have been great. If I agree that Roosevelt and Kennedy are perceived to have been great leaders (again, you only imply that they are so perceived) and recognize that they were leaders during times of great challenges, then I might well come to the conclusion you implicitly seem to be driving at. That gets me back to my point about examples: Kennedy was not in the White House when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon; he was in Arlington National Cemetery. (But note: in an academic essay, the factual error would be the most serious problem here, but in a GRE essay test, the real problem is that the significance of the example is not clearly elaborated.)
In your next two paragraphs, you offer another example: the presidency of George W. Bush. The conclusion to that argument is quite strong: "Discussions shifted from his imperfect past to the actions he took to help the nation recover ... ." Again, the argument relevant to the original claim is only implicit of course. I would recommend that you explicitly reiterate and emphasize what this example is intended to demonstrate: that perceived greatness depends on challenges faced.
Finally, the Bush example takes up quite a chunk of your essay. It seems to me that your point could be made with greater economy (more briefly), which might allow you the space or time to devote to other issues relevant to the original claim. Your first argument, again, is that one reason the original claim might be true is that history focuses on times of challenge. Your second argument is, in effect, that the truth of the original claim is evidenced by the case of George. W. Bush. The first argument here is obviously the stronger, because it is based not just on the offered example, but also on a specific reason: history focuses on major events. (Note that in your two paragraphs on Bush you only make factual or historical claims; you don't make any specific argumentative claims). Can you think of any other general reasons of the kind offered in your second paragraph that might help explain why the original statement might be true (or, even better, sometimes false)?
Finally, I recommend that you avoid writing practice essays in response to Kaplan sample prompts and focus instead on prompts from the actual GRE pool of essay topics:
Be wary, also, of copying the style or arguments of the sample essays provided by Kaplan. Those essays are uneven in quality, and you will learn more, in any case, by developing your own responses to essay prompts.