COMMENTARY: The Failure of Leadership and the Betrayal of Democratic Principles

I wrote this commentary in 2013 about how blind partisanship is a failure in leadership. I think it is applicable today as well, though the obstructionists have a different political color.

Preface: I rarely comment on hot political topics because too many readers are so anxious to determine whether I am a friend or foe of their beliefs that it undermines the credibility I seek as a fair and impartial mentor and friend. Being impartial, however, does not preclude the formation of opinions, and despite my attempt to provide a balanced “professorial” approach, it is certain that I will be both lauded and condemned for this commentary — not for the light I hoped to shed on the issues, but because of the conclusion that I am either an ally or enemy. The reality is the closest scrutiny of my commentaries will not reveal my political ideology. Sometimes I agree with positions commonly taken by liberals and sometimes with conservatives. I want to comment on the current political atmosphere, despite my certain knowledge that some readers whose attention I value will ban me from their lives. I think it is important that we all consider how a democracy is supposed to work.

The test of leadership is efficacy. In politics, elected leaders must pursue their principles in a manner that respects but is not entirely subordinate to the desires of a majority of constituents. That leadership requires a balance between, on the one hand, ardently advocating one’s own ideology and, on the other hand, strategically accepting and respecting the opposing views of equally sincere leaders. In 2013, as we witness one more sad chapter in the deterioration of our democratic principles, we are experiencing the consequences of failed leadership across the entire political spectrum.

Sincerity is important, but when one is vested with the responsibility and authority to manage public affairs it is not enough. Working within a democratic system requires an understanding that the concepts of compromise and acceptance are honorable strategies in the pursuit of peaceful, civil and effective resolution of differences and disputes.

Responsible leadership lies somewhere between the extremes of expediency, unanchored to any principle beyond self-interest, and the passionate, self-righteous sense of integrity that leads to fanaticism.

Politics has been called the art of the possible because democracy requires accepting that points of view thought to be foolish must be accommodated within a constitutional structure. The ultimate test of democracy is efficacy. The failure to get things done, to keep things moving, to keep the government open — that is a failure of leadership and a betrayal of the fundamental principles of democracy.

The politics of anger and power, the dominance of political gamesmanship and manipulation are inherently anti-democratic, and elected officials who do not understand or can’t do their job should be removed, not because they lack character, but because they are incompetent.

In the end, however, we get the government we deserve. It’s been said that in a democracy every citizen is a public official with responsibilities to the common good. A citizenry that ignored the inevitable consequences of gerrymandering and looks the other way or cheers on blind partisanship has failed in its role as public officials. Shame on them. Shame on us!

An old maxim says, when you are in a hole, stop digging! I hope we will at least stop digging.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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