On that narrow point I think he is right.
Most of our presidents, senators and governors are extremely accomplished people with at least some exceptional qualities. They are thrust into a position that would be the ruin of many humans. Power itself tends to corrupt. Being surrounded by sycophants is itself a character test. There are, too, the many opportunities for personal indiscretions, and an apparent sense of invulnerability.
But I part ways with Brooks when I ponder the implications of these realities.
He pondered them in a recent column. In it he empathizes with those in power, a natural enough thing for an empathetic man who often interviews them. "We live in a culture that finds it easier to
assign moral status to victims of power than to those who wield power," he writes.
"Most of the stories we tell ourselves are about victims who have endured
oppression, racism and cruelty." He goes on to note that "the main problem is our inability to think
properly about how power should be used to bind and build. Legitimate
power is built on a series of paradoxes: that leaders have to wield
power while knowing they are corrupted by it; that great leaders are
superior to their followers while also being of them; that the higher
they rise, the more they feel like instruments in larger designs... These days many Americans seem incapable of thinking about these
paradoxes. Those 'Question Authority' bumper stickers no longer
symbolize an attempt to distinguish just and unjust authority. They
symbolize an attitude of opposing authority."
It seems to me that there is a tension between Brooks' insight about why it is difficult to be a good leader, and his admonition that "before we can build great monuments to leaders we have to relearn the art of following." As he puts it, "To have good leaders you have to have good followers -- able to recognize
just authority, admire it, be grateful for it and emulate it." His critics perhaps dismiss this point too readily. There have been times when leaders inspired greatness in followers. Take Gandhi (never mind the reality that today's leaders are not exactly Gandhi analogues).
What cannot be squared, in my mind, is the insight that leader worship makes it harder for people in power to behave honorably, and the simultaneous argument that we need to be more admiring of our leaders. I do not mean that we should be disrespectful or them, nor of any other human being.
But we ought to be skeptical of their intentions, knowing that power corrupts; and we ought to challenge them, for if having worshipful sycophants inflates one's self-importance, what better corrective than dissenters confident enough to convey that the leader has erred in his or her judgment?
More than anything else, we ought to constrain the power leaders wield.
There is a fantastic book by Gene Healy called "The Cult of the Presidency." It is noteworthy, among denunciations of misbehaving leaders, in laying the blame for our woes on the American voter.