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Thursday, February 25, 2010

BALANCING HEALTHCARE, PUBLIC POLICY AND POLITICS: MIA (Missing in Action) - Leadership in Washington

Balancing Healthcare, Public Policy and Politics with Linda De Seife

Here are some headlines that I read over the last few weeks that have inspired this month’s column:

  • “Snow Adds to the Political Drift”
  • “Why Washington Is Frozen”
  • “America’s Candor Gap”
  • “A Year Later, Where did the Hopes for Obama Go?”
  • “No Deficit of Cynicism”
  • “Stimulus Created Jobs, But No Real Optimism”
  • “Debt Ills, Rate Plan Knock U.S. Stocks”
  • “Fudging Jobless Statistics”
  • “Reid Puts His Bill Before Bipartisanship”
  • “White House May Abandon Civilian 9/11 Trial”
  • “Economic Data Stirs Fears”
  • “America’s Greek Tragedy – Greece’s Crisis Holds Warning for Us”

Now this is quite a list, and I could go on, but you probably get the idea. Is it any wonder that Americans are angry? Is it any wonder that, although technically the economy is in recovery, Americans don’t feel it, and so are not spending on houses, cars, or anything else other than the necessities? Is it any wonder that fear and uncertainty are paralyzing our country and holding back the recovery?

One day the headlines say things are getting better; the next day they’re not. One day we’re trying terrorists in civilian trials in New York City, and the next we’re not sure. One day we need a new agency to study global warming; the next day Florida is freezing, and Washington is literally buried in snow. (Although figuratively it’s been feeding us a snow job for years; that’s the problem!)

America is not working, in more ways than one.

Then we have a State of the Union address that is nothing more than a laundry list of legislative initiatives and a scolding of the Congress, Republicans, the previous Administration, and even of the American people by a President who is above it all, blames everyone else, and takes no responsibility for his actions, or inactions, over the last year.

Where is the clear direction, strategy and transparency that was promised? All we’ve gotten for the past year is drift -- from one issue to the next and back again. Tactics, tactics, tactics! Talk, talk, talk!

Now the Democrats are trying to say, and the media has picked up on it, that America is ungovernable. This is nonsense. What America lacks is leadership -- people who know what it takes to make the system work. We have an inexperienced President who, to use a business analogy, instead of being the CEO, is behaving like a functional vice president or department head.

The concept of leadership is very complex. There are many definitions, but there are some common traits of leadership. Some of these are: defining a vision and translating it into reality; trustworthiness; taking responsibility for your actions; inspiring confidence. The management guru, Peter Drucker, has said that “effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes.”

One of President Obama’s problems is that during the campaign he sounded like a leader, but, now after the campaign is over, he has not delivered. He seemed to have the attributes, but there have been no results.

The famous psychologist Carl Jung declared, “The true leader is always led.” Bill Clinton realized this after the 1994 elections and worked with the new Republican majority to reform the welfare system and end the era of big government. Obama, to the contrary, refuses to get the message. So it is likely, that he will get more messages in November. We’ll see if he gets it this time.

And the Congress is no better. The long time Speaker of the House, Sam Rayburn, who was legendary for arm-twisting and jaw-boning believed, “You cannot be a leader and ask other people to follow you, unless you know how to follow too.” Today’s so-called Congressional leaders find it easier to buy votes than to truly negotiate the issues by listening to their members and their constituents.

We all know that another key to leadership is trust, but as I look at Washington, where is the trust? Democrats don’t trust Republicans, and Republicans don’t trust Democrats. The people don’t trust the government, and the government doesn’t trust the people.

The President’s words say one thing, and he does another. Then he called a health care summit, but even before the event, he began posturing to paint the Republicans as obstructionists if they don’t just go along. During the event, he again became the lecturing professor. So, Republicans are right to be suspicious of his motives. Have we forgotten the concept of the loyal opposition? Their role is not to just go along; their role is to oppose that which they do not believe in.

Where are the adults in our country today? It’s not the President, much as he tries to play that role by chastising others. It’s certainly not the Congress. The adults, who are trying to lead their leaders and who understand the challenges we face, are the American people. But we can’t do it alone, especially when paralyzed by the indecision and lack of strategy and vision in Washington. We need to feel confident that our country has direction that we can support. Those who voted for Obama thought that’s what they would get, but they were mistaken.

What we have is paralysis, driven by a lack of strategic direction, confidence and optimism, which could tip us back into recession, or, at the very least, is delaying a strong and sustained recovery.

We need leaders, like Ronald Reagan, who had a vision for America and confidence in the people to make that vision a reality. We need leaders with courage, who fulfill their vision based on their passion, not their position. We need leaders who raise people’s aspirations and energize them to achieve great things.

America is not ungovernable, and government is not broken. America lacks leaders who know how to govern, who respect their constituents, and who can build consensus and work through issues for the good of the whole, the way the Founders intended.

What are your thoughts on the subject?

Quote of the Month
“All the ills of mankind, all the tragic misfortunes that fill history books, all the political blunders, all the failures of the great leaders have arisen merely from a lack of skill at dancing.”
-- Moliere

For more information, please visit Linda's TNNW Bio


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