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The Music of Politics

A REPORT has surfaced in Berlin that Kurt Masur, music director of the New York Philharmonic and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, is being considered for an even more august podium: the presidency of Germany.

Is this an indication of a shortage of leaders in Germany? Not necessarily. Leaders typically come from the ranks of retired military heroes, businessmen, or lawyers, promising toughness, efficiency, and legislative know-how.

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As president of Czechoslovakia, the playwright Vaclav Havel brought other gifts to politics. His Velvet Revolution combined an acute conscience with a certain playfulness, making politics an act of the imagination and radically changing conventional definitions of leadership.

In bringing the sections of an orchestra together, Mr. Masur is, in effect, building a consensus in sound. In 1989, when the communist government of East Germany was disintegrating, Masur is said to have acted as a mediator between the collapsing authorities and the emerging protesters - orchestrating, so to speak, a peaceful resolution.

Beyond the power to command and persuade, leadership requires the ability to recognize just needs and conceive of fair and compassionate responses.

And vision? It is the artist's province - a sense of what life is all about beyond just daily business.

When the German Parliament and representatives of state legislatures vote for a new president in the spring of 1994, they may well choose another candidate than Masur, who is seen as a long shot. But if not an artist, why not a politician who, like the retiring German president, has a touch of the artist? Richard von Weizsacker has given a new stature to the presidency by leading the opposition against racism with passion and insight.

In an era of considerable confusion, when intuition and sensitivity are so badly needed, it may be worth recalling that politics itself is often described as an art. A politician does not have to conduct Beethoven's ``Eroica'' in order to be a leader, but it just might help.

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