A Poverty of Leadership in Washington

fall-off-cliffEvery good parent learns that “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t fly with kids. You may think your children are ignoring you, but they listen and watch everything you say and do. Need proof? Say one thing and do another, and your kids will be the first to point it out to you. Good parents learn to lead by example.

Good employers, too. If the boss insists employees follow company policies to the letter but fails to follow those same policies, employees know it.  Employees won’t respect a boss who has expectations of everyone but himself or herself.

If only we could get this concept across to officials in Washington. For nearly five years, Americans have suffered through losses of jobs and homes. Nearly all of us have had to tighten our belts and do without things that we would not have in the past. We’ve had to mind our budgets.

Congress can’t even pass one.

We have faced pay and hours cuts.

At the end of 2012, President Obama signed an Executive Order which increased the pay of various Federal employees, including, among others, Congress, the Vice President, Senior Executive Staff, judges and justices.

According to the Office of Personnel Management, the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 blocked the pay raise for members of Congress, but other portions of the Executive Order are still in force.

Whether or not the public servants in the Executive Order eventually receive a raise hardly matters. It isn’t so much the raise, but the very idea that such an order would be signed in the current economic climate.

Then there are the infamous presidential trips, like the million dollar golf trip with Tiger Woods or the upcoming trip to Martha’s Vineyard.  Sure, being the President must be stressful, and he needs a break now and then, but taking lavish trips while canceling White House tours smacks of “Let them eat cake!”

You see, the big problem isn’t the spending. Compared to over $16 trillion in national debt and $86 trillion in “unfunded liabilities”, the pay increases and vacations are just drops in the bucket.

The big problem is a poverty of leadership. The problem is leaders who don’t understand the concept of setting a good example, of sacrificing with their people.

This hasn’t always been the case.

In WWII, when bombs fell on London, King George and Queen Elizabeth remained at Buckingham Palace. While others in the family were sent to safer areas in the country, the monarchs stayed with the people of London, sharing the danger that other Londoners faced.  “Keep Calm and Carry On” wasn’t just for the average person – it was lived out by their leaders.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower was known for being accessible to his men, listening to their complaints, and asking them about their lives and families back home. He genuinely cared about his soldiers, and he earned both their affection and their respect.

In his book, Eisenhower: Soldier and President, author Stephen E. Ambrose recounts an incident that happened while Eisenhower was in Italy during WWII.  While on a cruise around the Isle of Capri, Eisenhower spotted two large villas. He asked to whom the villas belonged, and he was informed that one belonged to him, the other to General Spaatz.

Eisenhower was incensed, saying, “Damn it, that’s not in my villa! And that’s not General Spaatz’s villa! None of those will belong to any general as long as I’m Boss around here. This is supposed to be a rest center—for combat men—not a playground for the Brass!”

Washington should take their cues from those great leaders of the past. They should not be receiving raises while so many of their people are receiving pay cuts. They should not be enjoying luxurious vacations while so many of their people struggle to keep a roof over their heads. They need to be humble enough to listen to the people who put them in power, be courageous enough to lead in the sacrifices we all must face in order to tackle our tremendous financial challenges.

We need men and women of conviction who will lead by example. Or more accurately, we need men and women in leadership positions who will demonstrate fiscal responsibility and integrity. Because, as someone once said, “A leader leads by example … whether he intends to or not.”

President Obama, Members of Congress — the people are watching.


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