I Was Crazy in 2008! Crazier Now! We Can Save Politics

I continue my brief sabbatical with the “best of” Reading for Leading.  This one is from the Fall (campaign of 2008).  Although it may seem crazier than then, because everyone seems “mad as hell,” but I WILL be bullish on America until I die, because it’s a democracy, after all. I love it! 

A few partisans will broil at this one.  A few cynics will call me an idiot.  I promise you, you won’t hear the following from any candidate or party, and you probably won’t hear it from the “mainstream media,” the “right-wing media” or the “liberal media.”  But I think this election offers us cause for extraordinary celebration, and should call us to be the best darned voters and citizens this country has ever seen.  So, I’m calling for an “appreciative inquiry” about all the good that is possible.

Think about this: after 230 years, which included a century of slavery, we have a man of African heritage nominated to be President.  Not just any man, but one raised by a single mom; he made it to Harvard Law School, where he climbed the meritocratic peak with grades that got him on the Harvard Law Review, and by fellow editors who made him president of that review. I could wax on about his commitment to public service and his courage in standing up against a war that most were afraid to resist, etc.  We should ALL be proud of a system that offers such a candidate.  But wait,

We have a Republican candidate whose father and grandfather were admirals, who himself served admirably, and who couldn’t be cracked in a P.O.W. camp.  He has fought courageously in the Senate, at times crossing the aisle to work with Democrats to get great things done, often speaking his mind when it was not popular.  Yet we as citizens so often say “those politicians are all the same.” Although the opposing party in the Senate disagrees with what he stands for, very few challenge his integrity and character.  We should ALL be proud of a system that offers such a candidate.  But wait,

The Republicans have put a woman in the second slot in their ticket, a woman who’s a mom as well as a governor.  People will argue about experience, but few can deny that the system has offered this real live person an amazing route into leadership, and you have to marvel at the way she has stepped up to the task.  But wait,

Here comes a guy whose wife and young daughter were killed in a car accident just after he was elected to the Senate.  He was going to refuse to be sworn in, but was convinced he could serve his country and still serve his sons.  He commuted (and still does) 4 hours a day to tend to his home life.  He’s fought corruption, at times – unpopularly – supported the president during war, and is now the Dems’ choice for VP.

We should ALL be proud of a system that offers such candidates.  We get so down on our system.  It’s true:  These candidates, parties, and their supporters will – if the pattern repeats – spend much more time tearing each other down, and defending themselves from attacks than talking about a positive future for us.  They are told by pollsters (who are just reflecting the numbers) that we pay attention to the negatives.  They are being attacked (Biden went after McCain as a Bush-clone, and Palin oozed sarcasm to demean Obama), and they will attack back.

So here’s a crazy idea for us everyday leaders:  Let’s focus on the strengths.  Have discussions – you’ll need to start them – about whose strengths are really key at this time.  Not who’s evil and bad.  But who can shine the best for our great country.  Not, “whose health care plan sucks,” but who really has a great plan that could work.  By the time we’re done with campaigns, our winner has been so whacked and whittled and wasted that we almost ensure a divided country – where half is angry and skeptical, and the other half has to almost blindly support the winner.  McCain is not a demon.  Neither is Obama.  Nor Biden nor Palin.  The winners will need our help, not our ire.

Dissent and debate we will have with us.  But we have power to uplift our dialogue, our reasoning, and our national mood, if we bring a civil tone and an appreciative mind, and

Lead with our best self,

  • Always good to be optimistic even in 2016, but LOTS of reasons for pessimissim with the likes of certain candidates in this election who might be compared to carnival barkers..Portions of the electorate are woefully gullible and this is not encouraging. Horrifyingly angry and this is not encouraging. And excessively partisan, and this is not encouraging. How to develop more bi partisan rhetoric and action is what is needed…Much easier said than done…Sorry to blow your optimisim.

  • Today, Saturday Night Live has become a proving ground for presidential candidates. While we have had some good candidates this time, what the masses are choosing plays to their fears and demoralization in the face of a successful campaign to make them that way. I cannot quite recall the quote of Albert Speer, a top Nazi, who wrote several books while in Spandau Prison. He wrote that whatever made the crowd excited, was what they told them. The large part of American people are now demoralized in the way Bernie Sanders speaks about. They are vulnerable to manipulation using this attribute. Those who have spread the lies about our Constitutional history, and economics, science, education and other things, those persons are now seeing the fruits of their efforts in full display. The fruits have ripened. This is the oligarch’s greatest opportunity.

  • “I WILL be bullish on America until I die, because it’s a democracy, after all. I love it!”

    The elephant in the room is that we no longer live in a democracy. We live in a plutocracy that is becoming increasingly plutocratic. What will create optimism about returning to democracy? Apart from creating a crisis, how can grass roots organizing compete with organizing funded by the super-wealthy? If power is created by organizing wealth and organizing people, what messages and leadership skills must many people possess so that voices with civil tones and appreciative minds will be heard? I, too, want to continue to be optimistic.

    • Michael,
      Thanks for weighing in. I think there’s a both/and at play.
      You are right about the potential takeover by moneyed influences. I find my friend Robert Reich’s work so very compelling here. And, I think the Supreme Court botched the Constitution in Buckley v Valeo and made it worse with Citizens United. Their feeble suggestion that there were all these “persons” called corporations who were being kept from acting in the political arena seemed an utterly bizarre view of reality. The result of their decision that money has flooded into politics proves how wrong they were. So, yes, citizens thanks to Citizen, have to fight against a flood of money to make their voices heard.
      Yet I think this is merely another challenge for democracy. It’s not that new. Moneyed interests kept slavery in play for almost a century after the Declaration and Constitution were enacted.
      Moneyed interests have been at every city hall and every state house since the country began.
      What has counterbalanced them – effectively and not so? Unions, petitions, enlightened elected officials, enlightened business leaders (yes, there is such a thing), movements (environmental, civil rights, health care rights), etc. Bernie and dare I say Trump prove that people still can have a voice.
      One thing that citizens have lost track of is they HAVE power, if they use it. Yet it’s not free power to have it their way. We have 300 million people in this country, 50 different states, tens if not hundreds of nationalities, religions, professions, not to mention personal temperaments. So, one man’s progress is another woman’s retreat. Progress and change are slow — especially as many resist what seems obviously irresistible to others. It’s true if you go to a local zoning meeting; differences will be powerful on that issue, and will seem to pit businesses (or jobs?) against citizens who don’t want the hassle of traffic, or the potential loss of value to their homes. Democracy is HARD. You don’t always win. The Trump and Sanders polarities surely prove this point — that some “gridlock” is how democracy works; you CAN stop change. So, if you want to “win,” then you have to organize better, smarter, harder.
      In other words, in my view, people’s anger is a bit juvenile. Not everyone sees the world the same as I do. I have to win my point in the arena.
      We will see whether people both fight and LISTEN in order to create a more perfect union.

  • Sadly, you make a comment that so many people make today. We are most certainly NOT a democracy, or at least we shouldn’t be. Show me one founding document that calls us a democracy! We were a Republic until the States lost their standing by virtue of the 17th amendment. Democracy means mob rule. I would go so far as to say that you shouldn’t get a vote unless you pay some sort of tax….income, property, etc. You should have to have some skin in the game in order to have a say. Otherwise, people will continue to vote for the candidate that promises the most free benefits to the masses, and they rely more and more on the government to fix their problems rather than ramping up their own ingenuity. I highly recommend reading a blog called “The Five Laws of Decline.”

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