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  Learn to Lead, or Lose Elections
by J. F. Kelly, Jr. [writer] 11/17/06

            While opinion remains divided as to the chief reason for Republican defeats at the polls, impatience with the war in Iraq or outrage over Republican scandals, there were clearly other contributory reasons. Prominent among these, judging from numerous surveys, was general dissatisfaction with the job performance of Congress.

J.F. Kelly, Jr.

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California. [go to Kelly index]

            It has been, by any measure, a most unproductive Congress, having failed to take effective action on such urgent issues as immigration control, impending fiscal crises in social security and Medicare, and the lack of health coverage for large sectors of the population. With so many failures and few offsetting accomplishments, the voters gave Congress even lower grades than those the president received and voted accordingly.

            Responsible citizens expect their representatives to be more than just attentive to their local needs, but also to deal with issues of national importance that are amenable to legislative solutions. Too many of their representatives are far too busy seeking to establish and consolidate their power, working for reelection and second-guessing the executive branch. Also, many who professed to have solutions while campaigning proved clueless once in office.

            Politics has gone beyond ugly. Opinion on most important issues is so polarized that compromise is viewed as surrender and, therefore, not even an option. It’s as though politicians view themselves as members of debating teams assigned opposite sides of an issue. They argue their side to the end, even when there is obvious merit on both sides. The objective becomes victory for their side, not the attainment of a workable solution which must inevitably involve some give and take. The result is a gridlock that paralyzes government. Americans are sick of it. They are tired of politicians who are all talk and promise but can’t seem to contribute to solutions. When the people become sufficiently fed up, the party in power inevitably pays the price and the Republicans did just that.

            Will the election bring the change in direction that so many Democrats have called for? Perhaps, but the change will be little more than a course correction. Options, after all, are limited and there has been a notable absence of new ideas or strategies accompanying the criticism directed at incumbents. There’s little reason to believe that fresh faces in the Congress will make much of an initial difference anyway, given the seniority-based power structure of the Congress and the inertia of government. And, as many analysts have pointed out, most of the Democratic victors in the congressional races tend to be moderates, so don’t expect a lurch to the left, Nancy Pelosi notwithstanding.

            Will political behavior change in the aftermath of such emphatic voter disapproval? Probably not. There’s something about winning political office that makes people want to hang on to power no matter what. Humility, gratitude, civility and cooperation quickly give way to politics as usual. In this election, the honeymoon barely survived the first day.

House Speaker-in-waiting Pelosi, who had famously referred to the President of the United States as a dangerous man, posed with him for photographs and expressions of mutual respect. Powerful members of the soon-to-be majority party, including Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Rep.Charles Rangel (D-NY), tried their best to appear moderate, but the show of good will was brief. Rhode Island’s lame duck Republican (in name only), Senator Lincoln Chafee continued his obstinate opposition to John Bolton’s confirmation as Ambassador to the UN, whereupon president-wannabe, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) declared the confirmation dead on arrival. Never mind that Ambassador Bolton currently leads U.S. effort to obtain effective sanctions in an effort to dissuade Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, perhaps the gravest threat to the western world. National security seldom preempts political posturing in the Senate. Some Democrats also warned that conservative nominees for judgeships would stand little chance of being confirmed. So much, then, for the parties working together.

Voters tried to send a message that they expect their elected representatives to listen to the people and find a way to legislate solutions. But this requires that office holders first learn to behave as leaders. Leaders in the field of politics must put the good of the public ahead of personal ambition. They must measure success, not in terms of election victories, but in terms of concrete accomplishments. They must view politics, not as employment for life, but rather as an opportunity for public service. That they do not is key to why politicians are held in such low esteem.

Unfortunately, attaining public office does not convey leadership. It must be learned and, too often, politicians are too preoccupied with surviving to learn on the job. CRO

copyright 2006 J. F. Kelly, Jr.



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