Clear It With Sidney

Notes on journalism for the common good, by Lindsay Beyerstein

An Antidote for the Imperial Presidency

After the pomp and circumstance of yesterday’s inauguration, it’s refreshing to remember that not all nations buy into the trappings of the imperial presidency. Uruguay’s president, José Mujica, a former guerrilla leader, still lives in his old house, drives a VW beetle, eschews servants, and gives 90% of his salary to the poor:

In a deliberate statement to this cattle-exporting nation of 3.3 million people, Mr. Mujica, 77, shunned the opulent Suárez y Reyes presidential mansion, with its staff of 42, remaining instead in the home where he and his wife have lived for years, on a plot of land where they grow chrysanthemums for sale in local markets.

Visitors reach Mr. Mujica’s austere dwelling after driving down O’Higgins Road, past groves of lemon trees. His net worth upon taking office in 2010 amounted to about $1,800 — the value of the 1987 Volkswagen Beetle parked in his garage. He never wears a tie and donates about 90 percent of his salary, largely to a program for expanding housing for the poor. [NYT]

It’s a powerful lesson in leadership that Mujica doesn’t feel he needs an opulent lifestyle to project authority. His power resides in his office, not in conspicuous consumption.

[Photo credit: jonisanowl, Creative Commons.]