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.

Comments 12

  1. Pingback: Choose to Be Kind… « Success!

  2. I clicked on your email regarding COMMENTARY 847.3: The Power of Kindness. I was looking forward to reading something uplifting. Instead, your link took me to your tirade on politics. You adamantly argue that these people with whom you disagree are incompetent and should be removed from their job. Here

    1. Post

      @ Bob I apologize for the error. I pulled the commentary on kindness late at night because I thought the the comment on leadership was time sensitive. I did not realize we already had a link to it. This is my mistake and if you think it is at the same level as the incompetence I attribute to politicians who either do not know how to or refuse to find democratic solutions to their differences perhaps I ought to be fired as well. I am sorry you viewed my essay as a tirade. I think our readers would be interested in your point of view responding to my assertions.

  3. Pingback: MEMO From Michael: How Are We Going to Get Out of This Mess?

  4. I don’t understand how anyone could take exception to what you wrote above. I teach leadership skills (among other things) and believe in the concept of servant-leadership. A leader must have a vision and mine is to develop my staff to their fullest potential.

    Unfortunately, what I perceive in politics is that too many people’s vision is about maintaining power for themselves and not about doing what is actually right. In order to be elected in this country, it takes money which also seems to mean that politicians are then beholden to the special interests that helped put them into office.

    I feel that I have been complacent too long. I need to be a better citizen and understand the issues and correspond with my representatives to ensure they truly represent me. I have voted blindly too many times instead of reading the facts. I may not be able to effect a more global change but I can certainly take more personal responsibility.

  5. A nation can survive its fools (Reid, Pelosi, Bill Maher, Schumer, et al), and even the ambitious . But it cannot survive treason (OBAMA) from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he (OBAMA) is known and he (OBAMA) carries his banners openly. But the traitor (OBAMA) moves among those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor (OBAMA) appears not traitor, he (OBAMA) speaks in the accents familiar to his victims, and he (OBAMA) wears their face and their garments, and he (OBAMA) appeals to the baseness (CLASS ENVY and RACIAL STRIFE) that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He (OBAMA) rots the soul of a nation, he (OBAMA) works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of a city, he (OBAMA) infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer ( ZODIAC, SON OF SAM, THE BOSTON STRANGLER, JARED LEE LOUGHNER, MANSON, DAHMER, JACK THE RIPPER, GACY, SPECK, BUNDY, ALBERT FISH) is less to be feared.

  6. Michael, I do not agree with everything you write, but always appreciate your perspective. Here, I 100% agree with what you state, and honestly do not see how anyone can characterise this as a tirade, in fact it’s quite the opposite. Perhaps they take exception to the fact that, we the people, are in fact responsible for the current situation, by our choice of leaders, or abstention from chosing. SO many people don’t vote and one reason I often hear is that they don’t understand what each candidate stands for … well, as you say, “shame on us”; it’s our responsibility to understand! We, as a country, spend hours watching football, playing online games, playing golf … etc, etc … yet we don’t see the importance in spending time understanding the stance of political candidates who can literally affect our lives and the lives of our children. The freedom and rights we have come with an equally important responsibility to participate!

  7. Richard’s tirade against President Obama truly saddens me. Have we fallen so low that we call the President a traitor? This is a democracy, and Richard is entitled to his opinion. But when someone cannot specifically share the actions or words with which he disagrees, then I fear for the fate of public debate.

  8. The preface addresses the reactions of those that disagree. The great Larry Elder sums up the two sides – Conservatives think of Liberals as wrongheaded. They don’t doubt their intentions, just the results their programs produce. Liberals, on the other hand, think of Conservatives as evil, to be hated, despised and degraded at all times. Put another way, Conservatives believe what they see, while Liberals see what they believe.


  10. This is the reality we see and problem solving isn’t much of their (politicians) concern but protectong their power and interest. In Africa, you see worse. Thank you.

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