Our Desperate Need for Honest Leadership

This past weekend I posted the following on the HuffingtonPost, and it provoked a fair amount of comments. I cross-post it here, though it is somewhat more directly political than what I usually write for this blog. I won’t use this blog to support specific candidates, but from time to time political issues are so relevant to educational ones, and I do write on a variety of topics...

What a week it has been! On Monday the New York Times‘ conservative columnist, David Brooks, was criticizing the Republican Party in the harshest terms. On Friday, the paper’s liberal economist, Paul Krugman, was attacking President Obama for adopting the conservative fiscal agenda and betraying his core progressive creed. What’s going on?

For Brooks, we are faced with what he called “the mother of all no-brainers.” We now have broad agreement in Congress that we must deal with the long-term deficit, and this itself is a victory for the Republicans. They control the political discourse, and they can achieve many of their economic goals. But in a move that recalls the Dems’ ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, the Republicans refuse to make a deal that would reduce the deficit by trillions.

Brooks is scathing:

But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative.

And he goes on:

Members of this tendency have taken a small piece of economic policy and turned it into a sacred fixation. They are willing to cut education and research to preserve tax expenditures. Manufacturing employment is cratering even as output rises, but members of this movement somehow believe such problems can be addressed so long as they continue to worship their idol.

He concludes that if the talks on the debt ceiling fail, it will be clear that the Republicans are not fit to govern.

Krugman is just as exercised by what he sees as Obama’s failure to apply either progressive values or sensible economic principles in his approach to dealing with the Republican deficit hawks:

But let’s be frank. It’s getting harder and harder to trust Mr. Obama’s motives in the budget fight, given the way his economic rhetoric has veered to the right. In fact, if all you did was listen to his speeches, you might conclude that he basically shares the G.O.P.’s diagnosis of what ails our economy and what should be done to fix it. And maybe that’s not a false impression; maybe it’s the simple truth.

For years, Krugman has viewed Obama’s compromises as an abdication of his responsibilities, and he speculates that the president is trying a Clintonesque maneuver that may have political sense but is an economic disaster. In a period of anemic job growth, Obama’s channeling of Herbert Hoover’s economic philosophies will only prolong the experience of dire recession for millions of Americans.

Brooks and Krugman both see that the Republican Party has been enormously successful in focusing attention on fiscal responsibility, which is resulting across the country in massive cuts to spending. These cuts will necessarily cause most pain to the most vulnerable — those who depend on government services. If the GOP were really serious about fiscal responsibility, its members would complement the cuts already won with increased revenue from those who have reaped the greatest rewards from our economic environment. This is what a political party ready to govern should do.

Meanwhile, we have an epidemic of unemployment, and nothing that the government is now doing is addressing this issue. Where is the enormous intellectual and political energy that Obama’s team displayed in preventing a banking system collapse, and that saved a large segment of the American automobile industry? Why has the president not had the courage of his convictions? Can he really believe that an imaginary bipartisan political pragmatism will trump economic realities?

Sensible government seems to have become a contradiction in terms. Democratic leaders have no ideas of their own, while Republican leaders are dedicated to protecting the rich — not to fiscal responsibility. Republican “non-starter” talk about additional revenue is an ideological fixation, not an economic theory. Democrats pandering to their base with calls to maintain the entitlement status quo won’t produce a sustainable health care system.

Protecting the least vulnerable remains the Republican’s highest priority, while protecting their political future seems to be what concerns Democrats. Where can we find honest leadership worthy of the name? We desperately need it.

5 thoughts on “Our Desperate Need for Honest Leadership

  1. The clerical workers at Wesleyan agree that we desperately need honest leadership. The kind of leadership that invests in its people, and in the long-term health of the community as well as the institution. “Sustainability” has come to mean something different to those of us most deeply affected by administration decisions about who pays for our health care, and why it is no longer affordable for so many of us. We remain engaged with the university, working hard to make the most of the resources we have to provide the highest quality of educational experience to our worthy students, and proud of its needs blind admission policy. But increasingly it feels as though the university is blind to the needs of its workers. I write this in the profound hope that negotiations turn, and we can once again believe that we matter to our leadership, honestly.

    Sincerely,
    Virginia Harris

  2. President Roth – regarding honest leadership from BOTH sides of the aisle, I believe that we must reconcile two key concepts embodied in these separate quotes: (a) from Samuel Johnson: “A decent provision for the poor is the true test of a civilization” and (b) from H.L. Mencken: “In this country, there are people who work for a living and there are those who vote for a living”. Nothwithstanding the 9.2% unemployment rate nationally and the 47% of Americans that pay no taxes at all, it strikes me we must generate honest leadership in this country that doesn’t just pose/protract/pontificate”….the greatest generation would have called this a need for shared sacrifice and not simply gaming the system again!!!!!

  3. Why is it that this country cannot survive on the idea of being an American? Why must we consider ourselves Democrat or Republican, why can’t our leaders come together for the good of the people? More and more often we see that government doesn’t see eye to eye simply because of the party they are in. If we simply worked together and brought our ideas to fruition, without consideration to parties, our economy and struggles would be resolved equally. Local, State and Federal must all find a way to talk to each other for the good of America. Come together and work on issues that effect everyone’s life, not just the poor or the rich.

  4. It’s so easy for someone to talk about honesty when they can keep it at an arms length. Is there really such a thing as honest leadership at Wesleyan University?

  5. It’s easy for Paul Krugman to issue pronouncements from his office at Princeton about what President Obama should do, without considering the political climate. There was an election in November 2010, and Obama has to deal with the consequences of it. I would love to see Mr. Krugman try to negotiate for 15 minutes with the likes of John Boehner and Eric Cantor. He’d run screaming from the room.

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