LEADERSHIP VACCUM: Parties prevail over the People

RANCHO SANTA FE, Ca., October 7,  2013 – As we enter Week Two of the most recent Government shutdown, one fact should be clear: there is an absence of leadership in Washington, D.C. The lines have been drawn between the two Parties, and they are willing to sacrifice any shred of intelligence and integrity that might still be associated with them for a meaningless political victory. While everyone is defending their position, no one is leading.

Leadership brings people together to accomplish a goal that would otherwise be beyond their reach. It requires the ability to build trust, and trust cannot be established when one’s actions are incongruent with one’s words.

These are concepts that appear to be foreign to those who are in positions of leadership in our Federal Government. Instead, the President, Speaker of the House, and Senate Majority Leader seem hopelessly intertwined in a web of political fanaticism.

George Santayana once said, “Fanaticism consists of redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.”

That is exactly what we are seeing in Washington, D.C. as our “leaders” try to solve the budget and debt puzzle they created. Unfortunately, the aforementioned political triumvirate has chosen to attempt this feat without two of the most critical pieces: their responsibility to do what is in the best interests of the People as opposed to the best interests of their respective Parties; and their responsibility to negotiate in good faith.

Let’s examine these two pieces within the context of leadership in general and the current debate.

“Trust” has left the building. Both Parties have created an irrefutable history of trading false promises for money and votes. If this were not true, we would be observing transparent negotiations driven by bipartisan accord when an actual crisis arose, and most crises would be averted by that same conduct. Only partisan fanatics will argue that their Party isn’t complicit in this regard or try to feign debate by asserting there is a false equivalence.

By abandoning trust as a criterion of leadership, the President, Speaker, and Senate Majority Leader have been set free to engage in partisan politics at the expense of the People. We apparently are considered to be nothing more than “collateral damage.”

Who caused the problem?

The correct answer is, “Who cares? Fix it!”

Instead, our “leadership” will spend an enormous amount of time, energy, and resources trying to convince the American people that the other Party is to blame. This has little to do with reaching an agreement on a fiscally responsible budget and addressing our debt obligations. Conversely, it has everything to do with the 2014 election cycle, control of the Legislative Branch of our Government, and raising massive sums of money in the interim.

The Parties have ramped up the rhetoric to leverage the negative emotions of fear, greed, and guilt. Both sides of the aisle are heavily soliciting their respective bases for donations to fight the political extremism of the other Party. It is a disgusting display of “divide and conquer” politics. The concept of a united Republic seems to be lost upon our leadership.

Perhaps most disappointing is the vocabulary the President, Speaker, Senate Majority Leader, and their partisan contemporaries are using. Are they really that insensitive to their choice of words, or are they just conditioned to deliver whatever sound bites their Parties have prepared for them?

January 8, 2011, isn’t ancient history. Representative Gabby Gifford was shot on that day. The Parties immediately began assigning contributory blame to the “hate speech” of their counterpart. Four days later, the President stepped forth at a memorial service and read the following words:

“… at a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized – at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who happen to think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we’re talking with each other in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds.”

The President, Speaker Boehner, Majority Leader Reid, and every citizen should be asking themselves why those words should be any less true and relevant today.

Yet, what we hear are phrases like the following:

  • “What we’re not for is negotiating with people with a bomb strapped to their chest”
  • “…we can’t (negotiate) with the gun held to the head of the American people”
  • “…jammed this jobs-killing, deficit-increasing monstrosity through Congress”
  • “…poisonous to our way of life”
  • “…Banana Republic mindset”
  • “It’s like Gunfight at the O.K. Corral”
  • “…they’ve lost their minds”
  • “…have shut down the government over an ideological crusade”
  • “…hold the entire economy hostage”
  • “…they’re actually willing to plunge America into default” and
  • “We’re not going to submit to this kind of total irresponsibility,” etc.

Of course, such phrases have been further reinforced by descriptive nouns like “anarchists,” “arsonists,” “blackmailers,” “extremists,” “hostage-takers,” “political terrorists,” and “suicide-bombers.”

The question you should ask yourself is: Does this serve the best interest of the People, or does it simply magnify the divide between the Parties to enflame emotions among core constituents in a concerted effort to separate them from their money and condition them to vote as they’re told in 2014?

Perhaps under George Santayana’s definition, our leaders are not fanatics. They simply have remained focused on the only issues that concern their Parties: campaign contributions, controlled votes, and the maintenance or expansion of power. The cultivation of partisan fanatics among the electorate is simply required to deliver upon those three objectives.

How do you fit into that equation?

The refusal to negotiate in good faith is simply a tactic that heightens the debate. While Majority Leader Reid and the President (at least until recently) have stated that they will not negotiate with Republicans, the Republicans have been equally truculent if in a somewhat more veiled way.

Republicans are demanding concessions on the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”), which they prefer to call Obamacare to make it more frightening to their base. It should be noted that some Democrats may actually prefer the name Obamacare because it allows them to play the race card when they run out of factual arguments to support their position.

Meanwhile, Democrats are refusing to concede anything when it comes to the ACA. It is their political Holy Grail.

If neither Party budges, parts of the Government will remain “shut down,” and ultimately, the United States will default on its debt for the first time in history.

Is any of this necessary? No.

Could it have been avoided by responsible behavior and compliance with Federal laws that are already in place? Yes.

Can the current dilemma be resolved? Absolutely, if our leaders stop wasting time marking their territories and, instead, re-focus on their Oaths of Office. The single driving force behind entering into good faith negotiations needs to be an agreement to reach a solution that represents the best interests of the People.

It is disheartening to have reached this point. It is even more discouraging to witness the price the Parties are willing to extract from the American people.

Both during the initial stages of sequestration and the Government shutdown, a premium has been placed on creating discernible public pain. Critical services have been constrained to create a sense of inconvenience and trepidation.

In addition, taxpayer funds have been frivolously wasted to dramatize the political conflict. Money has been spent to “close” monuments and cemeteries that are the property of the citizens of the United States and have little to no expense associated with remaining open. Even cash flow-positive events have been canceled to sensationalize the shutdown.

As an example, the 58th Miramar Air Show was scheduled to be held in San Diego on October 4th and 5th. It was canceled due to the shutdown. This decision came after the food had been purchased and all the infrastructure investments had been made (i.e., the erection of stands, vendor chalets, etc.). It’s worth noting that the Air Show typically attracts 500,000 people and contributes approximately $17 million to the local economy. It also returns a profit to the Government. This year, because of the politically motivated decision, everyone will suffer … including the taxpayers who will have to foot the bill for the investments that had already been made.

This should be an embarrassment for our elected officials. Instead, they view it as “fair game” in the high-stakes poker they are playing with our country as the bet.

While some have argued that “under God” should be stricken from the Pledge of Allegiance, there are few who would suggest it be altered in a way that requires one to pledge allegiance to a political Party rather than the United States of America. Yet, that seems to be how our elected officials interpret it.

It’s time to take our country back. It’s time to demand that our elected officials put the People’s best interests ahead of those of their respective Parties. Since they either won’t or can’t find a solution on their own:

What would you suggest be done to solve the problem they have created?
What is a reasonable time within which they must reach a consensus?
What interim steps can be taken to mitigate the impact on the People?
What rational concession can be offered?
What steps should be taken to preclude these issues from arising again in the future?
How will you hold the Parties responsible for their respective behavior?

Nature abhors a vacuum, and there is clearly a leadership vacuum in our Federal Government. The question remains: Who will fill it?

Let’s end with one more quote.

Eldridge Cleaver once said, “You’re either part of the solution or part of the problem.” Both Parties have chosen to be part of the problem. Will you join them, or will you be part of the solution? Keep that in mind when they solicit you for a donation or take your vote for granted in 2014.


T.J. O’Hara is an internationally recognized author, speaker, and strategic consultant in the private and public sectors. In 2012, he emerged as the leading independent candidate for the Office of President of the United States and the first nominee of the Whig Party in over 150 years.


This article first appeared in T.J. O’Hara’s recurring column, A Civil Assessment, in the Communities section of The Washington Times.