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Warren Bennis

Warren Bennis

Warren Bennis is University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business at the University of Southern California. His newest book is 'Still Surprised: A Memoir of a Life in Leadership.'

'Populist bigotry'

In response to the On Leadership question: Imagine you are a speech writer working on this week's State of the Union address. Draft a memorable passage that would allow the president to get his leadership mojo back.

"My fellow citizens,

Just a year ago, I accepted the honor and privilege of serving as your 44th President. I stood before you then, as I stand before you tonight, humbled by the task before us. I said then that 'the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met in a short span of time. But know this America, they will be met.'

I went on to discuss in great detail those challenges: a weakened economy, homes lost and jobs shed; a network of violence and hatred; businesses shuttered; the rapacious greed and unhinged, unregulated banking system; schools that fail too many; a health system both too costly and inefficient; the use of energy that only helps our adversaries and threatens our environment; a toxic 'inside-the-beltway' divide that made genuine, bipartisan problem solving a restless dream.

Those challenges, alas, are still with us and make me feel no less humbled. But there are two major reasons for our lack of progress. Perhaps most important is that I seriously underestimated the populist bigotry of my adversaries in and out of government. I gave it my best shot: to be inclusive, to bring the parties together and do what's best for the American people. I have come to the reluctant conclusion that the disenfranchised Republican party has no platform on which to stand other than to stir up the anxiety of those who have suffered the most.

The problems I thought we could solve only collaboratively have been stubbornly resisted by the Republicans. As a result the sick get sicker, the poor get poorer, and the rich get richer. My "restless dream" has turned into a nightmare for the American people. I should have recognized earlier the desperate and futile barriers my opponents have built. It appears they would rather see these problems fester than do the right thing for our fellow citizens.

The other reason is more complicated. The problems we face are incredibly complex and intertwined. The truth is that the details of the legislative reforms necessary to restore our economy and moral authority are egregiously hard to understand, difficult even for members of Congress who have written sections of the legislation. Our competitive position in the world is dependent on reforming health care, national security, fiscal responsibility, regulation and transparency of our financial system, and desperately needed improvements in education. These challenges are all honeycombed. Our moral authority worldwide and prosperity at home will be threatened if we do not work together to resolve and come to grips with solving these problems.

I have been criticized for not communicating a 'narrative,' a credible story that would counter the 'Don't' and 'No's' of the opposition. Well, here it is, simply put: Our collective goal is to focus on nation building at home and that can only be accomplished by working together. As I said last January in my inauguration speech: The challenges we face are serious and real. They will not be met in a short span of time. These words still hold tonight in my first State of the Union address. But know this America, the challenges will not be met until my adversaries in and out of government come to their senses and do what's right for the American people. And soon!"

By Warren Bennis

 |  January 27, 2010; 6:09 AM ET
Category:  Presidential leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please report offensive comments below.

"My fellow citizens,

Regardless that I have never even managed a Burger King nor served a day in the Boy Scouts..let alone the US military... I still think I am more than qualified to lead you into economic prosperity and global security.

In conclusion, just keep reminding yourself to blame everything on the GOP.

My TelePrompTer and I thank you.

Sorry about the CSPAN/Healthcare transparency foul up. I really did want to show the back room deals on CSPAN but on advice of council thought it best take that off my bucket list."

Posted by: travisg2 | January 27, 2010 11:01 AM
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