Perhaps the most famed political leader, when it comes to idealism of purpose, was Cincinnatus. Long before the days when Rome was a far-flung empire, it was a republic clinging to the underbelly of what would be Western Europe. When the Aequi and Volscian tribes began to threaten Rome from the east in 458 B.C., the citizens begged Cincinnatus to take over dictatorial powers and vanquish the threat. He did so, in a mere sixteen days, and then immediately resigned his position of power, returning to his farm. This example of knowing when to yield power was cited by George Washington, after he stepped down after two terms as the first President of the United States ("Cincinnatus").
City Hall, directed by Harold Becker, is just one of a long line of works in American literature and cinema that analyze the slow erosion of an idealistic leader's credibility. One of the first works on this theme was Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men, a scantily fictionalized look at the life of Louisiana's Huey Long. Willie Stark, who is Penn Warren's slightly larger-than-life Huey Long figure, and John Pappas, New York's mayor in City Hall, are two men who have risen to their current power using a similar dichotomy of private and public positioning: outwardly, both men have ridden a populist wave of sentiment to their current posts; inwardly, both men have incurred debts to the corrupt powers that control much of politics, and both ultimately have a price to pay. Both men are closely followed by idealistic staffers - Willie Stark is followed by the aptly named Jack Burden, while John Pappas is followed by Kevin Calhoun. Both of these men have bought into the message that their respective leaders have broadcast to the masses, and both men fervently believe in the men for whom they work. By the end of both stories, both men are disillusioned as to the true nature, and the true source, of political power.
The contradictions that revolve around political power primarily have to do with the definition and application of duty. The existence of a "duty triangle" has been asserted, in that, over time, three major approaches to classifying ethical thought have arisen, and these approaches are based on virtue, principle, or consequences. In other words, people make their ethical decisions based on one (or more) of these three ideas. When one considers political leaders, it would be difficult to leave both virtue and principle out of the equation: after all, the lower rungs of political service are not sufficiently lucrative for a purely utilitarian individual to find the situation attractive. There has to be some idealistic motive behind entry into public service, even if, after time, that idealism is worn away and replaced by a jaded faade. The idea of virtue finds definitions for ethical conduct in the behaviors and qualities of the good individual. The idea of principle suggests that universal principles can be used to make ethical decisions. These two are very similar; however, the key difference is that the virtue-based definition uses individuals as its orientation, while the principle-based definition uses a broader base of precedent as its orientation. The idea of consequences looks at the outcomes of actions and uses those outcomes to determine whether or not an action is right or wrong - this is often called a utilitarian