Monday, August 17, 2009

The Leadership Void

It occurred to me as I was preparing a sermon last week that there are two different types of leaders in this world. One is designated by proper authority; the other earns the honor. One asks “why” and seeks to fix blame when problems arise; the other asks “where do we go from here” and seeks to fix the problem. One “cracks the whip” in order to get people to fall in line by whatever means necessary and at their ready disposal; the other motivates and moves people of their own accord. One believes himself to be the “know-it-all” and absolute authority, incapable of mistakes and seemingly eager to belittle those in his or her charge; the other recognizes his limitations, his status as a human – and fallible – person, and utilizes the gifts and talents of those in his charge to achieve the common goal. One micro-manages and trusts no one; the other delegates authority and is able to trust because this leader takes time to know those in his or her charge.

The purpose of the sermon was to distinguish between knowledge (that of knowing something) and wisdom (that of knowing what to do with that knowledge) and I came to the conclusion (though this was not in the sermon) that our government is filled with all kinds of knowledgeable persons, but there are few who evidence gifts, or even desire, of wisdom. It is not that these many are incapable of wisdom, but true wisdom is not incidental and does not necessarily come with age and/or experience. Wisdom is willfully and actively sought.

The several health reform proposals floating about in the Congress have caused a great deal of concern, confusion, and downright consternation among the populace not necessarily because the legislation itself is dangerous but because each party is using the weaker points of these many legislative proposals not to build upon but to destroy political opposition. And because each party is using what it thinks it must, even to the point of distorting genuine information, to make the other look bad, we citizens are left with little more than sound bites that lack useful substance. Because we lack good information from those we have appointed to represent us, we react angrily. Sad, but true.

Speaker Pelosi “blames” the media and monied interests for the outcry and accuses these town hall “criers” to be not only “un-American” but also implies these many to be incapable of independent thought or of disseminating such complex issues. Republicans blame Democrats, and Democrats blame Republicans. President Obama blames “all the above”, does not (or will not) subject himself to the same scrutiny and questions as congressional Democrats have endured at these town hall meetings, and still within such a heavily controlled environment gives only platitudes, emotional innuendo, and answers “questions” about very complex issues as health care and insurance from prepubescent children who are clueless about what is really at stake.

It seems clear, therefore, that this current government, from the White House to the Congress, is absolutely lacking in genuine leadership because wisdom is not only not actively sought but is, instead, intentionally avoided for the sake of political gain. Because of this, Americans have but one option: clear out the House and the Senate and begin anew. This means even the “good ol’ boy” congressman, who glad-hands so easily among the constituents a few weeks before election time and has done many personal (and political) favors, has brought home plenty of “bacon” and is well-connected, must go. No exceptions. It would be a bitter pill to swallow for many who are actually satisfied with their own representatives and senators but a necessary pill because this government will not begin to respond to the people until they fully recognize that we are not mindless sheep who can be led by the proverbial shepherd’s crook.

Ultimately, the central issue is one of trust, is it not? Though we might “like” our own members of Congress, do we really trust them to act in our behalf for the common good? Do we really trust that if there is a choice between something good for us or good for them, that they would choose us? Given the consistently low approval rating numbers according to various polls, my guess is that we do not trust the Congress to act in our behalf. So why reelect them when we know that if our own “bosses” felt the same toward us, that we would soon be unemployed? That these members of the Congress are not subject to the same scrutiny and supervision is the foundation of their abject arrogance.

Here is the simple litmus test for potential candidates: do they tear down their opposition? If so, they are not worthy of our trust. They may possess a great deal of knowledge, but it is clear that they are incapable of using this knowledge for the greater good. Knowledge of a particular issue is used only for personal, professional, or political gain. It does not take a great deal of wisdom to tear someone down and it does not even take a great deal of intelligence to find fault with another’s proposals or ideas, but it takes a real leader to think through things and offer more than simple platitudes.

And I think it really is that simple. Consider, for instance, Sarah Palin. She came out with these “death panels” because the proposed legislation allowed for “end of life” counseling to be paid for by Medicare. There is no wording in the legislation that I am aware of that grants the government any options. Rather, the available (and some very expensive) options are spelled out for the one receiving the counseling so that the patient may exercise these options and make informed choices. Mrs. Palin should know perfectly well that her words would only inflame, not inform, and her rhetoric is destructive rather than useful and constructive. Her only aim – and ONLY aim – is to discredit the president and congressional Democrats. Absent her own proposals, she really should simply remain silent until she has something useful to contribute to the discussion.

The town hall meetings were a necessary first step toward addressing this massive legislation before it turns into yet another massive, uncontrollable government program. It is sad that these meetings got so out-of-hand and downright disrespectful of those who stood in disagreement, but I think it has become necessary for the members of Congress – and potential candidates for Congress – to see and experience the utter frustration felt by voters. No single thing or person or committee is “at fault”, but it is strange to see so many members of the House who were just reelected getting hammered by that same constituency.

But let wisdom prevail. Whether “revamp” or “reform”, a lot of forward thinking and past experiences will have to enter into this national conversation. “Grandma’s plug”, Trig Palin’s disability, and other such emotional black-mail have no place in this debate. The nation has made itself clear: we want information, useful information about exactly how such proposals will “make things better” or be “deficit neutral” or will “rescue the economy”. No more apocalypse. No more “doomsday”. The facts, please; just the facts.

No comments: