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Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner

Howard Gardner is the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Senior Director of Harvard Project Zero.

Walking the Minefield

With all due respect, this brief question confounds an amazing number of issues. First of all, Congress is not on the verge of taxing away Wall Street bonuses; it is considering taxing bonuses for individuals working for companies that are being bailed out with billions of taxpayer dollars. Second, there is no necessary link between this curtailment of bonuses to those who have been responsible for the financial debacle and the infusion of private capital into the banking system. Third, why assume that the president should oppose the tax plan? I for one support it fully. Rhetoric should be cooled when it is not justified; political risks should not be taken just to show leadership mettle. And so on...

The real issue is a different one. Clearly many individuals knew about the plan for bonuses at AIG. Why didn't anyone anticipate the fall out and try to prevent it? I am reminded of the other amazing spectacles of recent months: airplane executives getting off their private jets to beg for billions, AIG throwing big bashes, etc., etc. Too many individuals inside and outside the government are completely out of touch with the plight of ordinary citizens and how ordinary citizens (properly) view this abuse of trust and support. If President Obama knew about the plan and still did not speak out in advance of the payments and do all in his power to stop them, then he is indeed at fault. And if he received poor or incomplete advice, the advisers deserve to be admonished, at least privately.

Leadership consists in a set of principles that guide one's policies and behaviors; reliable adherence to these principles; a willingness to admit when one is wrong and to make amends as effectively as possible; and, in a time of crisis, a realization that one does not have all the answers but will learn from mistakes and share that learning with the public. I think that President Obama understands these principles of leadership -- but he is still feeling his way through the political and economic minefields.

By Howard Gardner

 |  March 22, 2009; 9:30 PM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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