My last blog post discussing leadership clearly missed the mark with most of the Disenfranchised Curmudgeon readers, so let me take a moment to discuss leadership and where I see that it is lacking.
Over the course of my life, the United States has faced a number of pressing challenges. An arguable list, presented in no particular order, of the most pressing would include: Poverty, Healthcare, Education, the Federal Debt, Terrorism and of course, the Cold War. That is one down, with five to go, which is pretty pathetic when we have heard so much about these problems from our leaders for the last four decades.
I do not mean to suggest in any way that there are available magical fixes because clearly, each of these items are substantial. What is amazing is that with all of the talk, very little has changed with regard to these five pressing issues. Stop and reflect if you will on the rhetoric you have heard-there has been a lot of it. Yet year after year, nothing changes and for the most part, exclusive of some short term Clinton era progress on the Federal Debt, things are pretty much unchanged from where we were thirty years ago.
But of course there is that sixth item: the Cold War.
While often we credit Reagan with winning the Cold War, I think that is somewhat misplaced. Reagan’s focus on this issue and his moving speeches make this a natural thing to attribute to him. I think if one is honest, however, credit is much more diffuse and belongs to the entire march of the Federal government from Truman down to Reagan including the Congress and bureaucrats who supported them. Our leaders were constant in recognizing the threat of communism and while specific policies along the way may have been misconceived, the big idea still held our focus.
The truth is that fighting the Cold War is the only thing I can think of in my lifetime that has been largely outside the realm of politics. I am not conveniently forgetting McCarthyism, Vietnam or any of the other splinter controversies that arose which clearly had political dimensions either. I’m making the point that the big idea, that Communism was dangerous to freedom and must be countered, was something with which few Americans disagreed.
Many people now argue, and to some extent I agree, that the failure of the Soviet block was more a matter of inevitability than of the West’s resolute stance. I think that is an interesting discussion, but not the one I’m seeking at the moment. My interest is rather in the singular focus we had as a nation on the Cold War and the question I ask is why can’t we have that focus on the other five issues of our time? Or at least one or two of those issues?
The truth is that we now have a fundamentally different and more self interested political elite that only cares about the issues as political tools. There has always been politics and back room deals in America and I certainly don’t mean to paint a pristine picture of our past. But it is true that in the past our leaders did often actually arise to challenges that confronted us in meaningful non-partisan ways.
But this is not our America today.
I was a political junkie much of my life. I remember the day it started clearly. I was young and Nixon was on TV resigning as President. I was too young to understand, but knew that my Parents were big Nixon supporters and that it was all a big deal. I actually watched much of the Watergate hearings even though it was way beyond my ability to understand-clearly I was a strange kid. And I did not miss much until about 1995.
By 1995 I had been watching the political back and forth for over twenty years. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the Clinton era budget wars. I cast my vote for the GOP for many years largely because of my perception of the GOP as being the fiscal conservatives. Guess what? Nothing changed! It left me wondering what had I been watching all of these years if it was not meaningful policy discussion?
Finally this bumpkin got it: What it was, was political football.
Football is exactly the right description too. The object is to win points by scoring on your opponent. The best way to score, is beat the opponent into submission. Nothing matters but that your team wins and even a little stickum and steroids doesn’t bother the fans that much if it is to their team’s advantage. Now I really enjoy seeing this played out on a real gridiron, but not in policy debate.
What we need is someone who can rise above all of this political noise and get to the business of solving problems. But this will never happen from the two major parties because the object for them is to win the game. Solving problems will inevitably involve compromise on the part of most Americans and it will take real leadership to both arrive at and sell compromise.
So I ask the ether, who we should turn to? I ask this important question seriously because I do not see that person anywhere I turn.
Ultimately, responsibility for all of this falls on We The People. We elect these vermin. Place the blame on us. All too often as individuals we fall into the trap of blaming the other political party, but my Grandma had it right those many years ago: “Its them Fat Cats”.
Given the track record of the past forty years, if you vote for a Democrat or a Republican, I simply think expecting substantial change is at the very least unreasonable. And I would suggest that perhaps if you are content to cast a vote for one of these two options, perhaps a part of the problem is you.
I am not suggesting that by not voting that this Curmudgeon is somehow not a part of the problem either. Many of you have pointed this out to me through private email and the blog. So please know that I harbor substantial guilt over the matter and hence my obsession with the subject of where to turn in this time of crisis. I may not know what the answer is, but I know at least two items on this multiple choice quiz which are no answer at all.