On Leadership
Video | PostLeadership | FedCoach | | Books | About |
Exploring Leadership in the News with Steven Pearlstein and Raju Narisetti

Don Vandergriff
Military leadership consultant

Don Vandergriff

A retired U.S. Army Major, Don Vandergriff is a teacher, writer and lecturer who specializes in leadership education and training, and the future of warfare.

Sacrifice a little now or a lot later

Question: In a high-stakes game of political chicken, President Obama appears to have bowed to Republican threats to block the extension of tax cuts to the middle class--and all other legislation--unless a similar tax cut for high-income households was also included. Is this realistic bipartisan compromise after a sobering election, or is it a sign of weak leadership?

True leadership is the ability to tell it like it is; to make recommendations that one believes will make one's organization, state or unit better in the future, even at the cost of short-term sacrifices by the leaders and their followers. Leadership is about convincing your people to do things that they are uncomfortable with at the moment because, in the long run, everyone will be better.

The failure to act properly on the tax-cut extension is a symptom of poor leadership. There is no leadership at all at the strategic level except for the likes of Congressman Ron Paul! There is a complete lack of character and moral courage on the part of the Obama Administration, and a continued living in a fantasy world on part of the Republicans. Instead, wherever you choose to look--at the economy and jobs, the public schools, the budget deficits, the nonstop overseas ventures--our country is in bad shape. Standards of living are declining, and American parents increasingly believe that their children will inherit a very bad deal.

Both parties want to reward their wealthy contributors, who make up the "elite" and possess no real understanding of how successful nations sustain their greatness--which is by maintaining a meritocracy, where anyone with hard work and smarts can succeed, and also by maintaining a large and vibrant middle class. Instead, these individuals are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic (in this case, the U.S.) as it sinks in its own debt and obligations, while the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow and to lead to more social instability.

Here was President Obama's opportunity to take a winnable fight to the U.S. citizens, with something along the lines of: "Can you believe the Republicans, they don't want to extend your (middle-class) tax cuts, and at the same time help those out of work (caused by the very Wall Street and Bank robber barons) with an extension of their unemployment benefits. No, those greedy SOBs will only help you and the unemployed if I agree to extend the tax cuts for the wealthiest of Americans!"

But instead, not one thing was heard from the White House regarding this issue, and at a time when the White House is sponsoring the Simpson-Bowles Deficit Reduction Commission. There is no way to solve our debt problem if we continue to cut taxes but resist all spending cuts. But it seems the small minority who now runs our country doesn't care.

Just half a century ago, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans accounted for 10 percent of the nation's income; today, they account for nearly 25 percent. Between 1979 and 2006, the average post-tax household income (including benefits) of the wealthiest 1 percent increased by 256 percent; the poorest households saw an increase of 11 percent; and middle-class homes, 21 percent (much of which was due to the arrival of two-job families). The wealthiest of Americans bring in an absurd share of the nation's wealth. They're the modern-day robber barons: the media tycoons, oil magnates, Wall Street traders, entertainers and corporate executives. They're the top 1 percent, or the top 0.1 percent, or even the top 0.01 percent of the population.

Ten years ago, President George W. Bush told wealthy donors at an $800-a-plate dinner, "Some people call you the elites; I call you my base," and pledged that his 2001 tax cuts would be a boon for all Americans. According to Hacker and Pierson, 51 percent of their benefits go to the top 1 percent of earners. Those cuts will be around a lot longer if the Republicans have their way and the Democrats continue to be spineless!

On November 16, 2010, Congressman Dave Camp, a Republican from Michigan, said the only solution to the Bush-era tax cuts was not just upholding them for all earners, rich and poor, but passing more such cuts. Any form of compromise, including President Obama's proposal to extend the Bush cuts for the working and middle classes but not the wealthy, was "a terrible idea and a total non-starter." By the way, Camp is likely to become chairman of the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, the body tasked with writing the nation's tax laws. And though most Americans wouldn't even recognize his name, Camp's message surely left America's wealthy elites breathing a long sigh of relief.

We are blind about much rot there is in our country, not to mention the incredible efforts that would be required to turn things around. As a result, the central story of the 2010 midterm elections isn't "Republican victory," "Democratic defeat" or "Tea Party anger"; it's political contributions from far-right groups like Rove's American Crossroads and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in order to maintain the status quo, no matter what condition the nation is in (I guess they think they can just retreat to their gated, secure communities). It's a horrible illustration of what happens when so much money ends up in the hands of so few. And with campaign finance reforms soundly defeated for years to
come, the spending wars will only get worse.

Meritocracy exists no more. We have the worst of an aristocracy, one that is self serving. When is a enough enough? We need a new third party, one that defends the Constitution and restores our values of being good citizens--advancing ourselves while also being concerned with helping others. The worst crisis our country faces is not with resources, drugs, costly overseas ventures. No, we have a crisis in leadership. We can sacrifice a little now, or a lot later.

By Don Vandergriff

 |  December 6, 2010; 2:59 PM ET
Category:  Accomplishing Goals , Congressional leadership , Crisis leadership , Economic crisis , Government leadership , Managing Crises , Political leadership , Presidential leadership , Self-Sacrifice Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
Previous: Obama allowed himself to be politically boxed in | Next: Another kick-the-can solution

Comments

Please report offensive comments below.



When are people on the left going to realize that Obama is an articulate, charismatic tool? He's not executive material.

Posted by: AsperGirl | December 11, 2010 2:37 AM
Report Offensive Comment

You nailed it, and Obama will make excuse after excuse as to why he "had to" provide tax cuts for the rich.

Obama is a bold faced lair, time for impeachment!

Posted by: beenthere3 | December 8, 2010 12:14 PM
Report Offensive Comment

For the Republicans the lesson is obvious: "Don't yield and Obama will cave. He's desperate to pass anything." Get it, Mr. Obama?

Posted by: pspox | December 7, 2010 11:30 AM
Report Offensive Comment

For the Republicans the lesson is obvious: "Don't yield and Obama will cave. He's desperate to pass anything." Get it, Mr. Obama?

Posted by: pspox | December 7, 2010 11:24 AM
Report Offensive Comment

I don't see the problem.
LET the GOP block an extension of tax cuts for the Middle Class, and they will never win another election!

Posted by: thomasmc1957 | December 6, 2010 4:13 PM
Report Offensive Comment

ObamaCare defined Obama. We know what he's about and I don't see how he can effectively lead this country.
His views are so philosophically different than most Americans, and any attempt to move to the center makes him look phony.

Posted by: ohioan | December 6, 2010 4:09 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The President and the Dems need to get a pair between all of them and demand that the 99ers are included in the UI extension like the Repubs demanded the wealthy get the tax cuts!!! There are 5 MILLION 99ers who need these benefits and are being ignored yet again!

PASS THE UI EXTENSION AND ADD A TIER 5 FOR ALL UNEMPLOYED AMERICANS!!!!!!

Posted by: PatL1 | December 6, 2010 3:54 PM
Report Offensive Comment

The President and the Dems need to get a pair between all of them and demand that the 99ers are included in the UI extension like the Repub demanded the wealthy get the tax cuts!!! There are 5 MILLION 99ers who need these benefits and are being ignored yet again!

PASS THE UI EXTENSION AND ADD A TIER 5 FOR ALL UNEMPLOYED AMERICANS!!!!!!

Posted by: PatL1 | December 6, 2010 3:53 PM
Report Offensive Comment

Post a Comment




characters remaining

 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company