Monday, October 27, 2008

Pessimistic, realistic or optimistic about new leadership?

By Carol Gee

There is nothing like a world-wide economic crisis to galvanize America's attention, this last full week of campaigning before the presidential election. I have wondered whether it is "the beginning of another 1929."# With Wall Street -- and the world -- in meltdown, our next president will come into one of the most difficult situations in several decades. Two wars, a weak congress, soaring deficits, and a leftover imperial presidency are just a few of the huge issues he will have to face. Even President Bush said a couple of weeks ago that there is a lot of work to do in his final 100 days. He has set up a transition team to help his successor.

The two candidates' campaigns are good auditions for leadership at which voters might look as they choose our next leader. A lot of good people are thinking and writing optimistically about the leadership issue. Writing in Politico.com (10/27/08), John Podesta, whom I predict will have an important role in an Obama administration, left an open message with a good, simple leadership plan for the next president, "44: Prosperity," on today's Politico.com. In the same issue, Tom Donohue, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, writes the new president a "booster-ish" message, "Dear 44: A can-do nation." To quote:

The next few years will present a critical test for our country, our institutions, and our leaders. We have to rediscover the identity of our nation. Do we still have it in us to act big and act boldly when the chips are down? Do we have the vision and the drive to act before confronted with a crisis? Is America still a can-do country? Can we plan smartly to build for America’s future success? Are we ready, willing and able to lead in this century the way we did in the last?

America will not remain a leader simply because we’ve always been a leader. We have achieved great things, but the world in which we achieved them has fundamentally changed. There are other great societies in the game now. To a large extent, they have us to thank! We told them how to build economies, train their work force and open markets. We put them in the game, and now they are competing against us.

Today, it is the United States that must regain its speed, execution and drive to be the best. We must throw off the cloak of entitlement. We need real leaders in government — leaders who can take a different approach, obtain the facts, formulate a solution, communicate it, sell it, and get it done. And if it doesn’t work, try something else. That’s what business does every day.

. . . After the election, we have another choice to make. Do we lead or do we follow? Do we continue our legacy and build a can-do future based on growth, hard work, entrepreneurship and reward? Or do we rest on our laurels and continue to sink into the swamp of can’t-do, enjoying small comforts in equitable mediocrity.

What will our next president be leading? According to Time Magazine, in it's very realistic article, "America: The Lost Leader," both presidential candidates agree that "the performance of the U.S. in its leadership role has been less impressive of late than it was following World War II. . . you cannot be a leader without followers." The article adds that, fundamentally, people just want security. And they want justice, an even older idea than democracy. To quote more extensively:

Now, with the end of the Cold War, and in the messy world that has taken shape in its aftermath, it is time for America to show leadership again. . . The Bush Administration, . . has not been good at multilateralism or institution-building.

. . . This record of unilateral action and standoffishness has borne bitter fruit in terms of America's reputation overseas. The polls don't lie; even among its staunch allies, the U.S is seen as untrustworthy and dangerous.

. . . The American domination — economic, social, cultural, political — that was such a feature of the post-1945 world is missing now. Plainly, there are material aspects of modern American life that still inspire admiration from overseas, and features of American innovation that nobody else can match. . .

Beyond anything else, though, it is the shift of the world's economic center of gravity from the Atlantic to the Pacific that has changed the environment. . . It is that sense of pride — quite palpable throughout Asia today — that provides the demand for respect, for influence, for the nations that have achieved such economic success to receive their just deserts. . . But though modern Chinese will often ask for understanding, they will always ask for respect. They think they've earned it. And they're right. This self-confidence of modern China, and other Asian societies, too, has had profound implications.

. . . The end of America's monopoly on modernity, coupled with the pride that other nations and cultures take in their own versions of modernity, has changed the game. What the U.S. faces in the world now is not a crisis of leadership so much as one of followership. . . the conditions which created leadership and followership in the post-1945 world are gone, and they're not coming back.

. . . America [could be] one that does not claim a monopoly of wisdom; one that recognizes that the world has changed; one that does not argue that simply because America was founded on a great idea 232 years ago, it has a moral superiority over everyone else today — is an America to which others would listen. We will soon know if such an America is taking shape.

Many, many others have a more pessimistic view. As an example, this cautionary note comes from Survival Acres (10/26/08) titled, "Olduvai Theory And Our Response."* To quote:

Unless a massive energy source is found and developed, industrial civilization will collapse in upon itself, leaving behind a unbelievable garbage dump of useless artifacts spread across the entire globe. . . The “answer” to all of this has always remained the same. Humans must embrace a new ethic and a new level of existence if they are to survive much longer on this planet.

Pessimism, realism or optimism -- I am optimistic that Barack Obama sees the world relatively realistically, despite his emphasis on hope. After all, his main message is "change," which would not be needed if our leadership had been adequate these past few years. It will take a young, energetic, smart and inspirational leader to finally get us back on an appropriate 21st century track. McCain does not qualify, in my opinion.

Hat Tip Key: Regular contributors of links to leads are betmo* and Jon#.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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