Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Crisis Of Leadership

We seem to be a country that has lost its way.  We have no forward leaning agenda that we can all get behind, and instead are faced with a host of gargantuan problems with seemingly no solutions.  The reality of Peak Oil has reached D.C. and our Representatives are scrambling around trying to figure out what to do about it.  Iraq is a disaster and our Senators are floundering wildly trying to figure out what to do about it.  Our unstable economy is in danger of collapse, and our President is sticking his head in the sand, not even bothering to figure out what to do about it.  Our current predicament is the result of failed leadership for sure, but the fact that all we have to take its place is marginally better leadership, well, we’ll still be sliding downward, just maybe not as fast.

68% of us agree that we are on the wrong path, that we are worse off than we were five years ago, that we aren’t interested in going any father down this self-destructive road of incurring outrageous debt, preemptively invading sovereign nations, rapidly outsourcing our jobs and selling our children’s future for a little comfort in the here and now.  Yet here we sit, in our homes, in our offices, in our neighborhood coffee shops, wondering what in the hell we’re supposed to do about it.

Perhaps we are too lazy, too wealthy, too involved in our own comfortable lives to admit to ourselves that we need to take action.   Perhaps we are too distracted, scared or proud to admit that we need someone to lead the way.  Whatever the reason, America needs a hero.

We like to think that we are rugged individualists, that we hold the power in this country and that we will take action when action is necessary, but America has always needed courageous leaders to challenge us and lead the way toward progress.  At critical times in our history, men like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt grabbed the reigns and dragged us, the American people, toward a better future.  We have failing leadership that has brought us to the brink, but there doesn’t seem to be a charismatic, thoughtful, truthful, intelligent, innovative person ready to fill the void.

One of the most damaging things the Republicans have done over the last several decades is erode the public’s trust and belief in government.  Reagan paved the way with his quip about the nine most frightening words in the English language being, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”  This may have served him well in getting public support for his deregulatory rampage, but Republicans have run with the idea and have made weakening government a cornerstone of their agenda.  We have seen the real world effects of the Republican’s “bad government” ideology in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, in the collapse of Enron, in the massive loss of jobs here at home and in the current windfall profits enjoyed by oil companies, but the lasting damage may prove to be the people’s lost faith that government can work for us.

The irony is that government is the only entity that can solve the big problems we’re facing.  Global warming is real and we are contributing to the problem.  Peak oil is real and we have not done enough to prepare for the end of the petroleum age.  The widening gap, hell the gaping chasm, between the uber-rich and the rest of us, is real and the result of an unfair tax system that can only be remedied by government.  Out of control healthcare costs are all too real and capitalism has been unable to effectively manage the problem, and government is the only logical solution.

We have seen what disdain of government yields, more pollution, a decaying education system, out of control energy costs, a stagnant economy, record profits for Corporations while they abandon the American worker in favor of cheap labor abroad.  Republicans have managed to make their slogan true.  Government IS bad when they run the show.

Again, America needs a hero, someone who believes in government and who cares about solving our problems above securing his or her own political future.  I hope that hero is out there, I have to believe that there’s at least one among us.  I just hope we’re not too jaded to recognize him or her when the time comes.

Cynicism doesn’t suit us as a nation.  When we eject Bush and his Republican cronies out of office, we must consciously reject their cynical view of government as well.  It will take decades for the damage to be repaired, but until a great man or woman stands up and grabs the reigns, I’m afraid we’ll just sit here, waiting to be dragged into the future.  Sure, we will continue to make small changes in our own lives that will help alleviate the pain of our collective problems, but a national commitment is necessary to make the kind of sweeping changes necessary to secure our future, and that will take leadership.  One rugged individual is all it will take.  Any takers?

19 Comments:

Anonymous geocrackr said...

I've heard a few interviews of Kevin Phillips over the last week as he tours the talk shows plugging his new book, American Theocracy : The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21stCentury. One of the points he's been making is that the U.S. is on the backside of our imperium, and that once a country reaches this stage, while it's theoretically possible to recover, historically it's never been done because the entrenched powers that pushed us over the edge are too entrenched.

On Ian Masters' Background Briefing last week he compared the our current situation to Britain, which went into WWI on top and by the end of WWII had become a massive international debtor at an equivalent level to our current national debt (as a % of GDP), and only American loans kept the British pound from disastrous collapse. The interim was ruled by no-name prime ministers who refused to face the situation they were in (sound familiar?), until they finally got Churchill way too late to do anything but prevent full-blown economic destruction.

Historically, the best we can hope for is the type of leader, as you are calling for, who will postpone the decline or at least mitigate it's destructiveness for 10 or maybe 20 years.

11:40 AM  
Anonymous geocrackr said...

p.s. Phillips also has a lot to say about the role of the Am-Taliban in electoral politics, which you might find interesting, and which, if he is right in his analysis, will come to bear on whether we could even elect a "hero".

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Allie said...

All good points - but I have to wonder if at this point our very system of government dooms us. It's so big, so entrenched, so corrupt, and so complex that I don't know if one person - no matter how heroic their potential - can actually make a big enough dent in it. Considering how young the USofA is, we've gotten mighty rigid and adamantine.

If Lincoln were President today, would he be able to do something as big as abolish slavery? Could he, for example, outlaw non-renewable fuels? Could he force the country to face its base and ingrained ugliness? Could he start us toward doing the right thing? Maybe I'm just getting too cynical; too beat down, but I don't think he could. He was a great and bold leader but I don't think the system today would allow it. So while it's tempting to hold out for a hero - I can't help but feel that, even if we find one, it won't be enough. I fear it's going to take a complete crash and burn before we can learn to rebuild using different (hopefully better) tools.

And just so you know - I don't fancy myself one of those loves-to-be-negative cynics. I hate that it feels this way. I want to believe things can get better *sooner* rather than later but these days it's just hard to hang onto the hope that eventually later will come and things will have to get better. I can’t believe the deep, abiding sense of hope I had 10 years ago and how I took it for granted.

< /doom and gloom >

12:09 PM  
Anonymous Tony C. said...

First, a couple of talking points, without much continuity because it's just after the crack of noon and I've not yet had enough coffee:

1. The way forward is no more difficult than the way back... or the way down.

2. The great leaders of our nation have always sold hope and inspiration - not fear, naysaying and negativity. FDR told us that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Words to live by, especially in this administration.

3. The President does not yet wear a diadem over his brow, or a flowing train of imperial purple. It's too late to stop that when I'm in my grave - and never before.

The founders of our current government, under the Constitution, studied older forms of rule by the people, including the Greek and European confederacies, as well as the Roman empire. They purposefully set about to create the system set forth in the Constitution: first to form a union "more perfect" than that of the Articles of Confederation; second, to prevent the usurpation of power; and third, with many safety valves to allow for recovery so that no slide would be irreversible.

The entire system, of course, depends on our adherence to the rule of law. On its face its face, the Constitution is the "supreme law of the land." Unless we, the People, demand of our government that it abide by the law, we are getting exactly what we deserve.

To think that these times are more turbulent, or that the Constitution lies in greater peril than in past eras is a mistake: we have had these fights many, many times before. Of course, we cannot rely on the past as proof that the present will fix itself. We recovered because of the efforts of a lot of people.

We Democrats (as opposed to our party) have no crisis of leadership. Every blogger who has more readers than him or herself has their readership thinking... and hopefully voting, and writing, and talking to others. You're doing something about it, and you're getting others to do something about it. What is leadership, if not that?

Our party... has a problem telling the truth. We need to kick out the pollsters and the consultants. When I hire a consultant, and the consultant loses, I fire him. Democratic consultants are, by and large, worthless. They're good only for losing elections. All the Democrats need is to start telling hard truths to the voters:

1. The Republicans are wrong on the environment. They want your children to die so their cronies can make money. (See e.g., Iraq-Halliburton, global warming-Big Oil, etc.)

2. The so-called "Reagan-Republicans" and Neocons stand for everything our forefathers despised: they want to go back to the bad old days of the Articles of Confederation which were the whole reason we have our present Constitution. Namely, that "government" imperiled everyone and gave no advantages in return for the risk. Everyone who ever counted in American history is unanimous on the point that, as currently constituted, the Republicans are a menace to the Nation (e.g., Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Washington, and anyone else who signed the Constitution).

3. Republicans are pusillanimous cowards. These chickenhawks are brave only when it's someone else's neck on the line. They're willing to fight those to weak to fight back. They won't, however, go themselves, and they won't send their own children. Worst of all, these "Patriots" are only too willing to surrender their liberty for the sake of illusory "security." If that is not the very definition of cowardice, I don't know what is.

What's so hard about that, Democrats?

1:19 PM  
Anonymous Dale Hippert said...

I read the Phillips book. It is chilling and the hour is late.
Nevertheless, at least two things are different between our faltering empire and all those that fell.

Change is occurring faster and communication disseminates news much faster than even 10 or 15 years ago. Might not
those differences, together with the publication and discussion of Phillip's book, and others like it, provide at least a chance
at heading off disaster? I'm always suspicious of 'because it's happened before, it'll happen again' scenarios or that established trends will straight line continue.

14 years ago Francis Fukuyama posited 'The End of History' and he has recently recanted. Around the time of the first Earth Day there were projections of ecological disaster to go along with the over population alarms, as predicted in the 1968 Paul Urlich book "The Population Bomb".
I give you Nixon's EPA and the 'pill'!

'A' hero won't be enough. We're gonna need a passel of 'em!
Almost exactly six months ago LG blogged about'Prosecutor Man'
and has since noted his heroic efforts. Coincidently, he's had
'Big Piggy' back in front of the current grand jury today, making it 5 total, backtracking, 'I forgot to mention this', type appearances.

So, the prosecutory arm of the Justice Dept is literally still on the case and probably another step closer to an indictment that will finally strip Bush of his 'brain' and further cripple a rogue Administration.
The reverberations from this
next indictment, together with the Abramhoff related indictments to come, will sweep several more Dems into Congress than otherwise
might have occurred.

8 retired Generals have now spoken out and Army Times reports a large majority polled as wanting Rumsfeld out. The military is belatedly letting its concerns known not only
about Iraq but about possible action against Iran.

In short, I see duty, pushback, protest and resistance wherever I look.
Whether it will be enough remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the Whitehouse has decided to furnish us with still more 'sport' by appointing Faux News talking head as press
secretary! What fun it will be to see him try to defend a litany of his critical statements about his new boss.

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Cossack said...

"Where have all the good men gone
And where are all the gods?
Where’s the street-wise Hercules
To fight the rising odds?"

Bonnie Tyler had it right way back in 1986.

"I need a hero
I’m holding out for a hero 'till the morning light
He’s gotta be sure
And it’s gotta be soon
And he’s gotta be larger than life
Larger than life"

LGND, I fully agree with your assessment BUT "....Houston, we have a problem." First, it will be difficult to find 'a hero' the likes of which we need. America was given a 'hero' in the last election, the medaled war hero Kerry (as opposed to the deserter Bush) and America chose...the deserter. So, got any better ideas? Even were Jesus Christ himself to personally descend from the clouds and present himself to the American electorate he too would be repudiated by a sufficient number of the electorate to deny him the presidency.

I fear more than a hero we, as Americans, need to engage in some highly painful self-examination and deconstruction of our carefully nurtured myths of exceptionalism and superiority. This may be more difficult than the finding of a 'hero' (though that is necessary too. Regardless of what I said earlier of Kerry, he was hardly more heroic in his presentation and ideas than puddinhead Shrub.)

Once we each and all have thoroughly gone thru our own re-education, once we admit that we may not be the fount of all goodness and intelligence, we may be able to accept a leader who, though flawed as all of us are, may have clear enough vision and intestinal fortitude to face us with the unpalatable (but unavoidable) choices we are going to have to make to survive. Otherwise, the electorate will continue to elect numbskulls who pander to their vanities and we will continue to 'feel good about ourselves' as we merrily plunge off a very steep cliff!

2:33 PM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

Geocrackr--Kevin Phillips' book is on my list, man I have to get to the bookstore, maybe tonight. Anyway, I hope you are wrong. I hope that we the people will demand no less than a return to faithfully adhering to our Constitution, solving our problems within the framework provided us by men who had high hopes and expectations of what we could accomplish.

Allie--I know what you mean about not being a cynic by nature but finding yourself feeling hopeless anyway, I'm in the same boat (the boat is getting pretty full). I've been reading the Constitution a lot lately, and that does help somewhat. I don't think it's a failure of our system so much as the failure of the people to believe in, understand and respect our role in making it work. The good news is, many of us do understand that. We just have to remind the others that not only do they have a stake in it, but that their participation is critical.

Tony C-- Thanks for so eloquently laying out a vision on hope and providing a perspective that so easily gets lost these days. I couldn't agree with you more, especially about honesty, hope and inspiration. The people need some tough, straight talk that will shake us out of our complacency, get us all on the same page (or at least in the same chapter) and provide a vision, a goal that we can work toward, together.

I agree that there are many people exhibiting leadership in making "a more perfect union" but time is of the essence and while a citizen movement is great, powerful even, I still feel like a leader should emerge from that movement (or at least tap into it) and harness the energy there if we are going to move in the right direction fast enough to head off some seriously bad times ahead. Not unprecedented in our history, certainly, but bad none-the-less. Most of us don't have any idea what a depression would look like and we don't want to find out.

Dale—I do see the heroic efforts of many from within the government and outside of it and I do agree that their efforts will likely bring down this administration, if not before their time is up, at least it will cripple their efforts to retain or regain power any time soon. But I wrote this post because, what happens then? Having marginally better leadership will not stop the slide, merely slow it, and it won’t repair the damage, merely patch it.

As divided as we are in this country, politically speaking, I still think we could easily be united. We can do our part in making that happen by building bridges to the other side, one person at a time, but it will still require a true leader to unite this vast country and just because Bush promised and failed to do so, doesn’t mean that no one else should try.

2:46 PM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

Cossack--You have articulated exactly the kind of "hero" I had in mind. Not a savior, a hero. Someone who will step in and do the right thing, not someone who pretends to care about the right thing, says the right thing but only really cares about power, money and being elected and then re-elected. I don't know if such a person will come along, but I'm hoping.

You're right about us cutting heroes off at the knees, I almost put that in the post, but my example was going to be Russ Feingold. He still may be the one, but if he is, he's going to have to figure out a way to circumvent the media establishment and talk directly to the people. That will likely be true of any candidate that will be worth our time.

2:56 PM  
Blogger thehim said...

Geocrackr,
I definitely need to read Phillips' book as well. It's kind of scary to know how right he is about the history of these things, but the one hope I hold out is that we can avoid the collapse through technology and our ability to maintain an interconnected, coordinated and vast resistance. What we have at our fingertips today is unparallelled in history, and if we use it wisely, might be a tool that allows many of us to become the 'heroes' that win this battle.

3:33 PM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

Cossack--One more thing. You are so right about us confronting, head on, our superiority complex, it is only contributing to our inability to solve our problems and encourages our ignorance and neglect of the rest of the world.

TheHim--I like that sentiment very much. We can all be heroes.

4:11 PM  
Blogger Aspazia said...

"When we eject Bush and his Republican cronies out of office, we must consciously reject their cynical view of government as well. It will take decades for the damage to be repaired, but until a great man or woman stands up and grabs the reigns, I’m afraid we’ll just sit here, waiting to be dragged into the future."

Sweet music to my ears sista! I think you do a nice job capturing how many of us feel right now. Good post.

4:46 PM  
Anonymous tony c. said...

Cossack reminded me:

Bush vs. Jesus

LG: Do the Democrats have any kind of viable grass roots movement to work on taking back government at the local level, first?

6:04 PM  
Anonymous geocrackr said...

LG - I hope I am wrong, too... actually, I hope Kevin Phillips is wrong, since I was merely passing along what I heard him say. I haven't read his book yet so I can't speak to the factualness of his facts or the reasonableness of his reasoning - Dale would be a better judge of that than I - but he makes a pretty strong argument live. I do know that when he talks about the Am-Taliban in electoral politics he doesn't acknowledge the election fraud issue, which means his conclusions are unreliable. But that doesn't necessarily mean his assessment of the potential dangers of the organization of the religious right is incorrect otherwise.

As far as the Constitution goes, I'd be happy if we could get a leader who would stand up and say "The Constitution is the supreme law of the land," and then actually act like he/she meant it. I'm tempted to read it again myself... but I think it would make me too mad.

Dale - You make a couple of good points about all of the acts of resistance, small and large, that we only hear about anecdotally, and about using trends to predict the future. As for the first, it's hard for me to see a balance when every day we hear of another new outrage from Wingnutistania, which we know will have real and long-term effects, while the nature of our media system obscures news of effective resistance. I'm not saying there isn't an increasingly effective resistance, only that we have no way of judging how large or effective it is yet, and that makes it easy to disregard it -- perhaps unfairly or unwisely, but perhaps not. As you said, "Whether it will be enough remains to be seen." As for the second, you certainly should be "suspicious of 'because it's happened before, it'll happen again' scenarios." But the corollary is "If it's never happened before then why should it happen this time," and I'm not as sanguine as you that the modern differences in the rate of change and the speed of communication (or the availability of technology, as thehim points out) will do anything besides enable the decline to happen faster. Not that these modernities aren't significant, and it's certainly possible one or more of them may be the silver bullet, but historical patterns are well known, and as you pointed out the writer of The End of History has recanted.

I'll keep my fingers crossed, but I'm not going to hold my breath.

6:22 PM  
Anonymous geocrackr said...

tony c reminded me:

Jesus vs. Jeezus

6:24 PM  
Anonymous Betty Cracker said...

I often wonder if our current political system has been irretrievably corrupted by money and crippled by the necessity of producing a slick campaign instead of substantive ideas. Could a hero even be heard? Could he or she distill the message into a 15 second sound bite?

The system by which candidates rise to national prominence winnows out anyone worthwhile and leaves only the narcissistic power-mongers in the race. A senator has to raise about $10,000 a day to hold onto a seat. How many butts does the politician have to kiss to come up with that kind of cash? And that's small potatoes -- it takes a gazillion dollars to mount a credible national campaign.

It's practically a requirement these days to sell your soul to the devil to seek high office, as John McCain is doing right now with his courtship of Jerry Falwell, whom he once rightly repudiated as a small-minded bigot. The money candidates must lay out and hypocrisy that they must swallow practically ensure that we'll choose from a pool of compromised mediocrities. And I don't see an easy way to fix it.

Sometimes I think we'd be better off assigning leadership posts via a national lottery rather than elections. I can't see how we could possibly end up with more self-aggrandizing thieves, psychopaths and idiots than we have now.

Unfortunately, I don't see how a genuine hero who is willing to make people face ugly truths is possible in this age of complacency and self-absorbtion. I hope to hell I'm wrong.

6:46 PM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

Aspazia--Thank you, you are very kind.

Tony C--I'm hoping that Howard Dean's determination to put Party money back in the hands of the state Party apparatus will go a long way in doing that. I think it really takes us all getting involved on the local level and actually giving money, however small the amount, to local candidates that we support. That way, we cultivate talent and make sure that they remain accountable to us. It's big money versus, lots and lots of small money I think.

GeoCrackr--Yes, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and we should only support those who are willing to fulfill their oath and defend it (like Russ Feingold). And you should read the Constitution again, it actually makes me feel better because the answers are there, we just have to be resolved to use them.

Betty Cracker--Yes, money in politics is the big problem. We have representation in government that can't govern because they have to spend most of their time raising money for the next campaign. Campaign finance reform will only get done if we the people demand that it get done (the foxes in the hen house won't do it on their own). PUBLICALLY FINANCED ELECTIONS!!!
It's the logical solution that everyone ignores.

I am encouraged by what has happened here locally. Darcy Burner is running her first campaign for Congress and she has exceeded fundraising expectations with help from the local blogisphere and grass roots organizing. There's no reason that it won't work on a national level, look at what Howard Dean was able to do. It would be even easier now, there are thousands of new blogs looking for someone to carry the right message. The people are the huge untapped resource, it will just take a candidate smart enough to recognize that it can be done differently.

7:03 PM  
Anonymous Dale Hippert said...

LG, Geocrakr, below is a link to a review of Phillip's book as well
as a portion of the review. The reviewer is like minded
with the theme of this post!

I'm not exactly sure either how to measure the effectiveness of the
points of resistance I cited. However I do take the cumulative impact
of mounting revelations of Rethug perfidy, incompetence and possible
criminality, together with declining poll numbers, to be equivalent to the
'canary in a cage' that miners used to use to detect gas.
Based upon that metaphor, our 'canary' took a header off his perch some time ago!



http://www.americamagazine.org/BookReview.cfm?articleTypeID=31&textID=4745&issueID=569

Phillips, a former Republican strategist who predicted the rise of the G.O.P. in his 1969 book, The Emerging Republican Majority, is an ardent opponent of the Reagan-Bush policies. He unhesitatingly points out the serious perversions of our politics by comparing America’s rise to empire status to Rome, 15th-century Spain, 17th-century Netherlands and 19th-century Britain. All were gripped by radical religious fervor at the peak of their power. He cites the five symptoms of decay that subsequently led to their decline. They sound disturbingly familiar:
• Widespread public concern over cultural and economic decay;

• Growing religious fervor, insistence on a close church-state relationship;

• Rising commitment to faith as opposed to reason and a downplay of science;

• Popular anticipation of a millennial time frame that includes an epochal battle, emergence of the antichrist or belief in an imminent Jesus’ Second Coming and Armageddon;

• Hubris-driven national strategic and military overreach, often pursuing abstract international missions that the nation can no longer afford, economically or politically.

Throughout the pages of Phillips’s book readers will find a consistent warning undergirded by hope. It is this: Americans who believe in civil liberties, the Constitution and democratic values, must pick up the leadership for the nation themselves. Relying on a savior, an antichrist or the Democrats to fill the void will not work. Without our commitment to reason, history and moral justice, we are surely doomed to be one more fallen empire in the annals of history.

7:29 PM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

Dale--Thanks for the laugh! I love the imagery of the canary lying stiff on the bottom of the cage and them trying to convince us it's just sleeping.

As far as the book goes, I really do need to read it, but from the review you posted, I feel I must clarify my call for a hero. I’m not looking for a savior, nor am I sure the Democrats are the answer, but at some point, there has to be someone willing to carry the message, a handful of leaders that spring from the movement that can represent us.

We live in a Republic (theoretically at least), and that means that we vote for the person we want to represent us in making decisions that affect the country as a whole. That is the only power that citizens have. We can’t write laws, we can’t change how education or healthcare is funded, we can’t set trade policy, we can’t make decisions about war and security, all we can do is elect people who will do that for us and who will hopefully do those things according to our wishes. This is exactly why I can’t ignore the election problems and the overwhelming evidence that the only power we have, is being stripped away.

I am all for talking amongst ourselves, reaching consensus and taking action in the form of writing letters, protesting, engaging in demonstrations and disseminating accurate information to our fellow citizens, but unless and until we have candidates on the ballot that are in line with our vision, none of the other stuff really matters. The decisions are made in DC, and clearly they don’t feel much need to make sure we agree with the decisions they make and that has to change.

8:10 PM  
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11:20 PM  

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