(The real kind)
Whatever happened to real leaders? I just turned 60 and remember a time when the people I looked up to deserved it. But these days it seems that almost any individual who rises to a position of leadership is, in one way or other, damaged goods.
Cindy Sheehan got me thinking about this leadership deficit. I was listening to NPR yesterday as I drove and they were interviewing Cindy live from her Crawford encampment. I was already more than a bit leery of Cindy, having read some of her earlier quotes. She was clearly one of those left-wingers I dislike as much as their right wing counterparts – you know the kind, everything is a conspiracy. On the right the conspirators are the Trilateral Commission/world government cabal, on the left it's the corporate/Israeli/military industrial complex robber baron bunch. Both groups embrace views that are simplistic caricatures of reality. And neither offer anything even close to useful solutions.
The program Cindy was on was Talk of The Nation, a made-to-order venue for Cindy's message. But when the interviewer asked her to recount how the President treated her during her first, and only, meeting a year ago, she snapped at him. "I have already talked about that meeting many times," she said in a scolding voice, "Why don't you ask me about what's happening down here now?"
The host explained that, while she may have told the story before he had not heard it and would appreciate her recounting the experience. She complied, but like a spoiled school girl forced to recite a speech she did not want to give. Then he asked her about some of those controversial statements the right was criticizing her for, like "this country is not worth dying for," and that the US went into Iraq at the behest of Israel.
This was less than three minutes into what had been scheduled as an hour-long session of talk and listener calls. But Cindy apparently decided that NPR was not pandering to her enough and cut the interview off. "I have to go. Goodbye." Click.
Yeah, her son was killed in a war built on lies. And, yeah, her son died for a country filled with people who don't deserve such a sacrifice. And yeah, Cindy is a grieving mother. But, yeah, Cindy is also an enchilada or two short of a combination plate.
But she has plenty of company out there in the public spotlight. The same can be said for most of the guys and gals who have found their way into public leadership positions, either by vote or, like Cindy, default. George W. Bush is demonstrably the least intelligent human to walk the halls of the White House since Dan Quayle spent his days cutting out paper dolls waiting for W's dad to drop dead so he could "get the big desk."
And don't even ask me to go through the list of leading Democrats who can't see they have feet of clay because they have their heads so far up their posterior orifice.
This country desperately needs a lot of things right now; a real energy policy, fiscal responsibility, a real national heath care plan, a real policy for cutting greenhouse gases, investment in our crumbling infrastructure, an exit plan from Iraq. But what we need most are genuine leaders who have both the intellectual capacity and ethical fiber to formulate such policies, explain them and execute them. And right now I can't name a single one.
It's not that there are none, there are a few who could be the real deal. Sen. Pat Leahy of Vermont might be one. He's a very wired guy for 65-year old. That bodes well because it reveals a hungry and forward looking mind. Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, may be another. He broke with the Hillary/Joe-Joe "stay the course in Iraq wing of his own party by proposing the administration set a benchmark deadlines for withdrawal -- not a "cut-and-run" strategy as Bush calls it, but target dates for staged troop withdrawals, the purpose which would be to focus the Iraqis attention on getting their act together, a fast.
But those in Feingold's own party who lust to be America's next leader -- and who voted for this disgraceful war -- are doing everything they can to avoid confronting that mistake.
"If there's a moment that could stand for the Democrats' irrelevance it came on July 14, the day Americans woke up to learn of the suicide bomber in Baghdad who killed as many as 27 people, nearly all of them children gathered around American troops. In Washington that day, the presumptive presidential candidate Hillary Clinton held a press conference vowing to protect American children from the fantasy violence of video games." (NYT- Frank Rich)
So here I am, like so many Americans, adrift in my leaky little boat surrounded by rising seas. Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink – or in this case, leaders, leaders everywhere and not a one worthy of my admiration or vote.
I have a feeling a lot of Americans are drifting out here with me. In fact, I suspect more and more voters, Red and Blue, are joining us castaways each day.
Red state voters are paying three bucks a gallon for gas, and plenty of them are the SUV/pick-um-up truck drivin' demographic. Each time they pour $75 into their American-dream-birthright gas guzzlers and then read that oil companies are reporting record profits, they wonder why the oil guy they put in the White House is doing this to them. Duh.
Many Red State voters are also prime candidates for credit card addition. The average balance now is $7800 in high-interest credit card debt per family. In the months ahead millions of "values voters" will have an opportunity to reflect on the conservative values revealed by the new bankruptcy restrictions their compassionate leader signed into law - restrictions that will lock working families into near-perpetual bondage to CitiBank.
Republican voters in Biloxi, Mississippi rummaging through debris that yesterday was home, may also be reconsidering the wisdom of Bush's refusal to sign the Kyoto protocols on reducing hothouse gases.
Then when the housing bubble deflates and takes a few trillion dollars of paper wealth with it, millions of would-be middle class Republican voters will discover they've been living a lie, a lie financed by the very roof over their family's head – a roof that may be blown off by the an approaching hurricane of adjustable interest rate increases.
Bush's chickens seem to be coming home to roost all at once; the war, deficit spending, ever mounting trade deficits, the worldwide scramble for finite and diminishing fossil fuels, the soaring cost of driving and heating, the gutting of the American labor force, a "zero" national savings rate and finally the threat to home and hearth itself. And amidst it all, an appalling lack of genuine leadership.
Ah, but what about homeland security? Aren't I afraid? Yes, I am. But I am far more afraid of the fallout from bad leadership than I am of some swarthy character with a bomb in a knapsack. Good leadership will lead to good homeland security. Bad leadership has made us less safe than we have ever been. Bad leadership makes non-threatening folks take their shoes off at airports, reveals their library reading habits, and sends troops (many of them first responder reservists) halfway around the world. Good leadership secures our porous boarders.
Ironically, even as this administration works feverishly to build a national unity government in Iraq, it is this country that needs one the most. From George W. Bush all the way down to Cindy Sheehan, America's fate is in the hands of leaders who really don't deserve the authority they wield.
It's moments like this that decide a nation's fate. When World War II broke out two genuine leaders materialized, Churchill and Roosevelt, and together they saved mankind. Have they stopped making leaders like that? Leaders who will tell us the hard truths, make us take the bitter medicine when we must while inspiring us to be all that we can and should be? I don't even care which party they belong to, or any party at all. I don't care if they are male or female, white, black or purple, from the northeast, the south or the west. I just want them to be smart, selfless, honest and willing to fight for enlightened, far-sighted, fair and equitable policies. I want them to care as much about the environmental climate as they do the business climate, public welfare as much as corporate welfare.
Where are such leaders today? Right now, I can't tell you. I don't see them. But I continue to hope they're out there somewhere and will stand up once again -- before it's too late.