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Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

Todd Henshaw, a professor at Columbia University, is Academic Director of Wharton Executive Education. Previously, he directed the leadership program at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Sad day for Washington

Q: Having failed to stop health care reform, Republican leaders have vowed to make repealing it their rallying cry in the November elections. What lessons could they draw from political history and the experience of leaders in other fields?

I'm beginning to think that "political leadership" is an oxymoron. Can any of our elected officials be a real leader with the party pulling the strings?

I'm watching a room full of Democrats, led by the president, celebrating the signing of our new health care legislation. The symbolism is profound. It is a celebration of a divided government, an inability to find common ground, and a failure to faithfully represent each constituency in the process of creating policy.

The Democrats have passed their legislation, but there has been little leadership, if the definition includes the characteristics above. And failure to carry out a transparent process plants seeds that will continue to divide our legislative process for years to come.

The Republicans have also failed to lead by creating concrete positions from which there is no desire to understand the other side. Recent epithets like "baby killer" and "liar" make me question the level of frustration experienced by this group of politicians, but also the level of maturity of those we've elected to represent us. The level of rage expressed by the conservative right should be of concern to Americans, as well as the unilateral process of the left.

I have trouble with the assumption made with this question, that politicians are necessarily displaying any type of leadership. We as Americans have a right to be disappointed with those we've elected, as leadership has been replaced by the party line and a corresponding failure to solve in collaborative way the country's difficult
problems. Leaders find a way to build consensus and community. Washington is doing neither of these.

By Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw (Ret.)

 |  March 23, 2010; 8:30 PM ET
Category:  Political leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: The entitlements we love | Next: Democratic fortunes


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The signing of the Health Care Reform bill was not "a celebration of a divided government." It was a celebration that the bill had passed, plain and simple. I am surprised that someone of the author's obvious achievements would assert that the architects of health care reform were "celebrating a divided government."

This kind of talk is exactly what the author is excoriating, and in that sense represents hypocrisy. Please, sir, don't engage in divisive and overheated talk while criticizing others for being divisive!

Posted by: BluGrass | March 24, 2010 7:00 AM
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What a putz. Do you recall ANY major legislation that passed unanimously? Were they all celebrating "divided Government?" That is beyond absurd logic. It's like suggesting that the birthday party is a celebration of wax candles. Talk about short-sighted, Henshaw can't seem to be able to see beyond his nose.

Posted by: gasmonkey | March 24, 2010 6:55 AM
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vsessoms, I am tired of people trying to paint people as racists because they don't agree with you. Obama and the democrats have done what democrats are known for, spending the country into bankruptcy. I think the federal government should adhere to powers identified in the constituion and quit trying to control what people think.

Posted by: redskins2k1 | March 24, 2010 6:51 AM
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this bill is all democrat, they even changed the locks ro keep Republicans out...
so all you low lifes that believe the Republicans shoud just keep quiet...
be prepared for the battle of your life come november...
politics as it should be...
personally, they should bring back duels...

Posted by: DwightCollins | March 24, 2010 5:17 AM
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Seams to me the dems are the ones opposeing the american people about 70% of american people opposed this bill and the dems said screw you, you are nobody and i know what you need just shut up and sit down.

Posted by: samuellenn | March 24, 2010 4:49 AM
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Well said, johnleavitt, well said.

Posted by: fotw | March 24, 2010 3:36 AM
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I disagree. It has been apparent that GOP leadership has marched in lockstep to oppose this president and America as a whole. The democrats reached out and the opposition slapped there hand and hurled insults,


Posted by: need4trth | March 24, 2010 2:57 AM
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I cannot agree. What I saw were several attempts by the administration to bridge the gap to no avail, a President who made both extremes unhappy and in the process threatened his re-election as well as convincing others to take an unpopular stand and threaten theirs, all for the belief that this was the right thing to do. This was leadership and frankly what he was elected to do. The one fault might be that he chose to wait so long before demonstrating he could do this. The overriding saving grace is that he did do it.

The process used is no more or no less transparent than that used by the opposition when it was in power (remember the wiretaps, end runs around regulations, WMD (or the absence of thereof), signing statements, anarchy/graft in Iraq immediately following the fall of Saddam, Rumsfeld's statement that we go to war with what we have, "miscommunications").

I would also point out that there appeared no common ground to be had. The opposition chose to run for reelection by refusing to work with the majority, debates became shouting matches, town meetings instances of intimidation, and some presidential speeches occasions for displaying weapons and offensive racially motivated signs/slurs. I have never seen anything like this. It is difficult for me not to see these actions as orchestrated, racist, and extreme to the point of bordering upon if not actually emulating the fascism these individuals individuals accuse the President of.

Perhaps it's time for us as a nation to reflect on the divisive legacy of the prior administration where "Reds and Blues" became the righteous or the damned depending upon one's beliefs and to remember Lincoln's comment that "a house divided against itself cannot stand". It is my opinion that our President is working to (re) forge a consensus that includes all Americans, not just a single group. I would suggest that too is leadership, especially since such a message is difficult to be heard above the anger and discord that permeates much of our political discourse today.

Posted by: johnleavitt | March 24, 2010 1:56 AM
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what a weak kneed wishy washy pointless gutless post. on the one hand on the other hand b.s. have you watched fox news lately pal? have you watched over the last year at the obstructionism of the republican party. wake up!! don't perpetuate the myth that somehow both sides are to blame evenly for the lack of bipartisanship. republicans have been shoutting you lie and baby killer and racial epithets and serially misinforming their constituents. They put all their chips on the anti obama obstruct everything strategy and it failed. the least you can do is use the platform you have in the media to talk about whats actually happening and not try to pacify a rabid radical fringe of this society thats vocal right now on the right wing. they should be condemned form their outright hostility to this president and their blatent disreagard of the responsabilities they have as public officials. shame on you for being to weak or too blind to see what has been taking place in front of everyones eyes over the last year and change.

Posted by: bizwiz27 | March 24, 2010 1:47 AM
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, that's on them, not President Obama.When does it become the Republicans responsibility to do their jobs? When does it become incumbent on Republicans to work with the duly elected President of the United States? At some point in time Republicans will have to take Responsibility for not doing the job they were sent to Washington to do. They are elected officials and ever since the election they have tried to overturn the election. They have despite overtures from the President decided to do everything they could to see the President fail. That is on them, not President Obama. If that has been their decision, man up, own it and look stupid.

Posted by: catmomtx | March 24, 2010 1:02 AM
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Republicans made it clear early last year that the Democrats would find no common ground - unless they passed a Republican bill.

Posted by: DGSPAMMAIL | March 24, 2010 12:42 AM
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Just more rubbish from the willfully disenfranchised.

Posted by: gsross | March 24, 2010 12:27 AM
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As the "N" word and spit was being hurled at African American Congressmen I thought of the Children present. Also the 11 year old who has been ridiculed by Republicans the last few days. What message do the Tea Party children glean from the adults Spitting and Cursing? You are afraid to acknowledge the Southern strategy employed immediately after the election of Barak Obama. Republicans have employed the lowest common denominator in White American repressed fear to create opposition in their quest to regain power and influence. More importantly lobbyist money! Leaders should never align themselves with Intolerance. Like it or not the President is a decent family man that went out of his way to work with Republicans and includes 200 Republican ideas in this Bill. Your attempt at being impartial is woefully transparent. You lean so far to the Right it's pathetic. You get points for decorum however!

Posted by: minco_007 | March 24, 2010 12:08 AM
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I just keep seeing Super Nanny Jo Frost putting John McCain on the naughty stool for his temper tantrum earlier today.

Posted by: kravitzkravitz | March 23, 2010 11:59 PM
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Lt. Henshaw

I think no one wants to talk about the real reasons regarding the "quarrel" or unbelieivable dispute going on in the country over the health care issue going on between Dems and republicans - the fact that the nation is divided politically is nothing new -but reasons why it is divided are obvious. To say that this is American racism at its best is an understatement. These white people, many of them poor, and all of them white, and not all of them dumb, speaks to the issue of racism. This hate, this disgust and loathing which is the same, I imagine, as the quality of hate that has driven this nation since its inception. Whites hate Blacks or any nonwhite period. They hate Obama because this man has more intellect in his little finger that they have or can even conceive. These are the same people who shout the loudest that they are Christians; these are the same Sunday morning church goers; those who pray and lament their goodness. This is the hate that provides the rationale for dragging a man to his death behind a truck simply because he is Black; the same hate the fuels the ignorant rantings of the insane racial hatred that is such a part of the American way. This is the hate the cruficied Jesus Christ and the rationale behind the disingenuousness attempt to belittle the dignity of any nonwhite. This is the same hate that fuels the wars in the Muslim world; the same hate that fueled Hilter's rise to power and to murder millions of Jews across Europe; the same hate you see in the Israelis treatment of the Palestnians in the middle east in the murder of young children and unarmed people. This is the hate that you hear in the ignorant and insane ramblings you hear on white radio by white fanatics who speak for the majority of white America. I have always known that - today, the world knows it and so does President Obama. God bless America? I think not.

Posted by: vsessoms | March 23, 2010 11:58 PM
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Napoleon lead the Grande Armée to Moscow. The retreat ? That lacked the necessary bipartisanship, in the GOP sense, but you can't call it a failure of leadership if you did not want to go to Moscow to begin with.

The Republicans were avoiding long before they were avoiding a "mistake".

Posted by: gannon_dick | March 23, 2010 11:57 PM
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Lead, follow, or get out of the way.

Even the best leader can't lead those who choose not to follow not matter how much it's in their best interest. The Republicans refuse to be led and they won't get out of the way.

Just what do you expect Democrats to do, Sir?

Posted by: arancia12 | March 23, 2010 11:52 PM
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Lt. Col. Henshaw,
I don't believe that either recent history, nor the current debate on HCR bears out your central points. My bias as a Democrat who support passage of HCR will be pretty transparent here.

When Rush Limbaugh stated flatly that the goal of the Republican party was to deny the President any success, one might have written him off as a mere "entertainer." We could have done that had the GOP not proceeded to follow his suggestion to the letter. Did the Republicans abdicate their civic duty over the past year? The simple answer is "yes" they absolutely and shamefully did. One needs to look no further than their unified refusal to support the stimulus program, a plan that less partisan economists, Democrats and Republicans alike, agreed was essential to avoid another depression. But, the Republicans chose the risk of depression over giving the President a success.

On the other hand, I've seen Democrats show good faith and give President Bush a measure of support for his choice to pursue the war in Iraq. My own "liberal" brother made such a choice, and died fighting there.

I must emphatically disagree that there is any moral equivalency between the Presidents leadership on HCR and that of those who oppose him. Agree with him or not, it is possible to trace the President's forceful leadership to clear and positive principles. On the Republican side, it's difficult to find the positive amidst the fear-mongering, hateful rhetoric. In the end, the Republicans appear to be an angry party lacking any semblance of positive leadership.

Mike Kowalczyk
San Geronimo, CA

Posted by: firethief | March 23, 2010 11:04 PM
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Why are these people so sad?

It's a weird emotion usually evoked outside rational argument. Their "sadness" suggests a level of psychological transference, that is, they are taking it personally. That bodes poorly for political discourse, where compromise is essential.

I recall such hysteria around every expansion of egalitarianism in American life--women's rights, racial integration, voting rights, immigration, and their opponents predicted collapse of nation and society for each one. These doom claims have always withered because making society more inclusive of its benefits is a sign of a maturing society. Like our corporal bodies, maturation of society is irrepressible as any growth spurt.

Why must conservatism mean emotional resistance to ordered change, even to the point of irrational beliefs?

Republicans' uniform opposition to all Democrats' initiatives relies on emotionalism because rationalism cannot sustain universal opposition in a legislative body. In plain words, it's like a school yard ploy: When a spoil sport child thinks he is looking bad during a game, he resorts to false claims of cheating, perhaps kicking over the board, and ultimately starting a fist fight to simply disrupt. All that childish and immature behavior stems from a sense of insecurity and inadequacy.

Why won't Republicans play well with others?

A rather more dark interpretation evokes the kind of opposition that history shows around Emancipation, Equal Rights for Women, Voting Rights, and more. Secessionists vowed to regain power and did with KKK intimidation and Jim Crow laws. Similarly, conservatives pledge a war against those victorious over them. Their reaction is akin to the sabotage Jim Crow laws represented, including their tortured claims under the Constitution's 10th Amendment.

The point is this, extreme emotionalism leads to irrational choices, which bring great peril to the nation when legislators become entangled by it. Why could they not have taken President Obama's straightforward appeal for Republican cooperation? As the President explained, he is the President. Giving him no place on which to reach common ground with Republicans only makes its impossible to work with the President of the United States.

That was the Confederacy's stance against Lincoln. It seems as irrational now as it surely was then. As the adage says, "They who fail to remember the past are doomed to repeat it."

Posted by: edarden4u | March 23, 2010 10:58 PM
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Sorry, I disagree with you. The Republicans had two objectives: to "compromise" on a bill written by them. And to defeat Obama at all costs, bringing about his Waterloo. Yes, I wish the two sides would work together, but the Republicans won't lift a finger.

Meantime, our lovely wingnuts like JHR1 at 9:57 PM hopes the President dies. Hateful. I'd report this offensive comment, but nobody ever pays attention.

Posted by: KathleenHusseininMaine | March 23, 2010 10:51 PM
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Actually, it's far more civilized than the days of Caesar...

Posted by: theFieldMarshall | March 23, 2010 10:48 PM
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Lt.Col, I couldn't DISAGREE with you more.

If you hadn't notice this debate has been going on for almost 2 years. If you are going to post an article, the fist rule of thumb is to Face REALITY, which your Column does everything but that.

The Democrats were doing, their JOB as Representatives of the American People. The Republicans on the other hand have used every unethical and borderline immoral underhand Political TRICK in the Book.

Just in case you have been living in a BUBBLE for the Past Year, and haven't heard all the Claims that the GOP Representatives have been making. Even doing and after the Death of Senator Edward Kennedy, Republicans were making all kinds of claims that were Misleading, and in most cases LIES!!!

Being in the Military and a Professor, you have the LUXURY of the Military Health Care System, or the Health Insurance Plan of the University. However, MILLIONS of Americans aren't that fortunate, to the ENTITLEMENT you so enjoy.

Before you past Judgment on the Party that's trying to improve the lives of as many America Citizens as possible, maybe you need to stop and remember this Quote:


Posted by: austininc4 | March 23, 2010 10:35 PM
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Colonel, you are "right on", Sir!
If you look at the vile and venom posted by both sides, here, one can wonder how have we survived with the bitter partisanship that is so prevalent!
You have been in the position of leading, and I commend you for your service.
Unfortunately, too many of our legislators and senators (both sides of the political aisle) just have not had any type of leadership training (as I see it).
We have a person who is probably the most intelligent person to have assumed the position of "Commander-in-Chief" in decades, yet (to me) seems to lack what is really "Leadership" in that important office.
Partisanship is his strong suit. Unfortunately a person of his caliber has no military experience. Chicago style organization is his past experience.
Polarization as is prevalent today will only lead to devitalize the nation.
The inept Congress takes its lead from the "leader"...It leads us to wonder in amazement what is in store for the future of this nation!

Posted by: SeniorVet | March 23, 2010 10:13 PM
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Todd Henshaw appears to be more bothered with a baby killer being called a baby killer than with the fact that recent Democrat leadership in the House of Representatives was toward the idea that bills could be voted on without being voted on.

I think Todd spent too much time in the military to be able to discuss civilian politics and maneuvering. Happens sometimes ~ Edwin Walker springs to mind.

No, not a sad day for Washington ~ at least not in contrast with Canada. There a vicious mob wielding clubs and throwing stones surrounded American political commentator Ann Coulter and threatened to murder her. At the same time leading Leftwingtard blogs in Canada carried pieces advocating the same thing.

Kind of a coordinated program of Mau-Mauism ~ but with its counterpart having occured Saturday when three African American members of Congress conspired to slander American citizens outside on the Mall protesting Obamakkkare.

Videos taken of that event showed that nothing those three guys said happened.

Well, at least we are way ahead of the Canadians, but I suspect this sort of thing is going to spill over and we'll see American Leftwingtards out trying to kill Conservatives.

Posted by: muawiyah | March 23, 2010 10:05 PM
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DIKDIK2002 has a point. You can hardly expect one side to "lead in a non-partisan manner", if the other side will not follow in kind. Obama reached out. He did everything he could to reach a consensus. Then he built the best bill he could with a "coalition of the health care willing" and passed it. If there is failure here, it is not of leadership.

Posted by: bidalah | March 23, 2010 9:57 PM
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Obama is corrupt Chicago politician, wed to the radical San Francisco left and the Socialist Soros machine. He is presiding over the dismantling of the system that made us great. Since we all agree that heaven is a good place, let's pray Obama somehow gets in........and soon.

Posted by: jhr1 | March 23, 2010 9:57 PM
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I come from a long-standing Republican family. Everyone in my family has voted Republican in all contests, presidential and gubernatorial, since 1856. But lets face historical reality: the GOP has been on the wrong side of EVERY major issue for the past 100 years, at least since TR's administration. They opposed American participation in the League of Nations; their pro-Wall Street policies in the 20's produced the Great Depression; they then opposed every effort to reduce the consequences of the Depression; they opposed every New Deal reform, including Social Security, banking reform, unemployment insurance, collective bargaining; 40 hour work week; and public works; they opposed FDR's efforts to fight fascism; they opposed health expansion plans proposed by Gov. Earl Warren AND President Harry Truman; they opposed Medicare in 1965 (Ronald Reagan predicted the end of freedom over THAT one, the End of Days itself); they staunchly opposed all Civil Rights legislation, including for African Americans, women, and gays and lesbians; and they've opposed Health Care reform since at least 1935. They've played the Race Card in just about every election since Reagan's 1966 gubernatorial crusade. Oh, don't forget their creation of massive deficits through tax giveaways to the super wealthy in 1981-82 and 2001-2002. Great track record, there. They've really put their "Country First" -- as was their slogan in 2008. No doubt they'll have much to campaign on in 2010.

Posted by: osullivanc1 | March 23, 2010 9:45 PM
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What Garbage!

You must think your readers are ignorant.

Your logic: Dems celebrating because they won in a non partisan way. But the Republicans didn't present anything concrete.

With all your degrees, I am sure you can see that the losing side not presenting came first and contributed to the bill being passed by one side.

Face it the Republicans mantra has been 'Government Does Not Work'. It needs to change to 'Republicans Do Not Know How To Govern'.

You want better leadership? Stop enabling the grade-school behavior of the Republican party!

Posted by: dikdik2002 | March 23, 2010 9:31 PM
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