This blog is about presidential elections and nothing in the current debt ceiling debate is directly related, so you may consider this a bit off topic. So be it.
In all the commentary, analysis and endless discussion about the current debate, I keep hearing one thing over and over and over again, “We need systemic reforms.” Everybody is trying to use this crisis to promote their pet project – the Balanced Budget Amendment, term limits…. Nonsense, we don’t need systemic reform, we need people reform. Let me lay this out for you.
What we are witnessing is a failure of elected leadership. Don’t get me started on the president. He is childish, churlish, petulant, self-absorbed and in so far over his head that the Titanic looks near the surface. Harry Reid seems to be Obama’s court jester – he’s not even trying to lead. Which brings me to John Boehner. I have a great deal of personal sympathy for Boehner. He is in a heck of a jam between the Tea Party freshman and the rest of the party. But that jam notwithstanding, leadership would find a resolution. Boehner is doing his best imitation of a bull in a china shop when clearly a different approach is called for. Like I say, I have a great deal of personal sympathy because I don’t know what that different approach is (if I did, maybe I’d run for office) but clearly something else has to happen and it has to happen NOW.
Leadership is an art, not a science. (Again, one of the reasons yours truly is no good at it – I’m a scientist at heart.) There is much that has to be taught to someone so they can lead, but if they are not adept at it to begin with they will never succeed. It is hard to find institutions that teach and foster it anymore. But worse in a society that apparently values egalitarianism more than prosperity, we tend to suppress those that are adept. Without leadership, ideas are just ideas – they never can become a functioning reality. When we do not foster and value leadership we end up with a culture of competing ideas, but little reality. At some point debate must end and action must ensue, or we will find chaos. And financial chaos is staring us dead in the face.
I don’t know what is going to happen between now and Tuesday, there is a lot of end game to go around. But I do not think it is too early to use this situation as a call to restore character and leadership to a place of value in our nation. We don’t need to point fingers at who is failing at it right now – there will be plenty of that to go around. We need to foster it in ourselves and learn to recognize it in those we vote for.
By fostering leadership in ourselves we first of all meet our obligation as voting citizens. In a republic such as ours we are each leaders in the ultimate sense. We need to learn to vote intelligently. We seem to have grown to the point where political ideology is more a matter of “religious” conviction than thought out position. Ideology matters, but it is not determinative of leadership and leadership matters more in the end. A good leader with bad ideology is Bill Clinton – the nation worked with him in the White House, even if we disagree with much that was done. A bad leader with bad ideology is Barack Obama, watching the nation rapidly travel to the edge of a precipice. In our small leadership role of voting we have to learn this important fact and look for it in those we vote for. We have to have the strength of character to vote against our ideology when leadership becomes the most necessary trait.
As we approach 2012 we need to examine the candidates carefully and with the lessons of this debate in mind. We do need to evaluate where they stand on the issues of the day, but more we need to examine their character and leadership ability.
Which brings me back to my point about people reform. Our system was designed to be used by good people and operated by good leaders. Systemic reform is an admission than we are less than what the founders thought us to be. I, for one, do not wish to think that of myself or those around me. Not to mention systemic reform will invariably bring with it elements of unwanted forms of government. Term limits, for example, will empower the bureaucrat over the long term which will eventually result in a kind of aristocracy we will not like – please, consider California when you think about term limits. As further example, I know the BBA as currently proposed contains “exceptions,” but no one is a true prophet and all necessary exceptions cannot be foreseen. It will burn us someday if it comes to pass, or be so denuded by the courts as to no longer be useful. Any reform you can come up with will have as much or more potential downside as it has upside. We simply do not need reform, we need better people in the system we have now.
It all comes down to who we vote for, and most importantly how we make our decisions about who we will vote for.
Hmmm. Maybe this post is not as off topic as it might seem.