Management and leadership expert Peter F. Drucker once said, “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.”
If he’s right, then our current political structure does not reward true leadership. You don’t need to look far for examples of leaders who have made tough decisions to pursue the right policies but then paid the price politically.
Take, for example, the Affordable Care Act. According to one 2011 study, at least 13 Democrats lost their seats after voting for passage of the bill.
Another example is immigration reform. In 2006, President George W. Bush worked hard to craft a bipartisan solution to immigration reform, only to rebuffed by his own party and unable to proceed.
In Washington today, most members in Congress don’t even get a first chance to offer a sensible solution. Before a member even provides the details of a bill he or she plans to introduce, the opposition has prepared a statement saying it is a bad idea and they will never support it. Bush’s immigration reform proposal, for example, was essentially torpedoed by conservative talk radio before it even won serious consideration. Even Sen. Ted Cruz – hardly a moderate – is now finding his stance on immigration under question. The conservative American Thinker recently accused the senator of “doubletalk” on the question of illegal immigration.
And given a 24-hour press with an infinite appetite for scandal and salacious news, it’s amazing that elected officials find solid ground to stand up for anything these days.
This isn’t to say there are no brave souls left.
On a recent stop in New Hampshire, potential presidential candidate New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie advocated for changes in Social Security, including an increase in the retirement age and a change in benefits. As The Week put it, “Whatever you may think of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, let it never be said he was too afraid to dance out onto the subway tracks of U.S. politics and touch a toe to the third rail.” If his odds were long before, they are certainly longer now.
Why is it so hard to find politicians willing to challenge their base?
For one thing, most parts of the country are now uncompromisingly red or uncompromising blue. Many of the members who lost their seats as a result of the health care vote were part of the “Blue Dog” Coalition, which for years bridged the gap between the far left and the right but is now greatly reduced in number. Unfortunately for us, that middle ground between party loyalty and problem-solving is shrinking.
But somewhere underneath all the noise and rubber-chicken fundraisers, there are leaders who desperately want to lead, and citizens can help make this a reality.
The first step is for greater numbers of ordinary citizens from the center to show support for their Congressional leaders. Too often, the center is silent, which means talk radio gets to fill the void.
Moderates and centrists need to be equally vocal. We need to let our leaders know – via e-mails, Tweets, and phone calls – that we respect when they lead, even if we disagree. When “we the people” provide the political cover, maybe real solutions will start to come from Washington.
To get the leadership reformation in Washington we need, it might be time for leaders to look to the people, not vice versa.
Richard Dedor is a political activist based in Des Moines, Iowa, and writes on the economy and government reform. He has worked in non-profits and marketing agencies across the country. Follow: @RichardDedor