The State of Politics in 2010

Dudley Weeks ©

February, 2010

I would like to ask you to read this commentary not as members of a particular political party, but as individuals who influence and are influenced by politics.  I firmly believe that is possible to do because each of us is much, much more than a Republican, or Democrat, or Independent.  Those party affiliations should not and do not “define” us as individuals or citizens.

The purpose of this commentary is to focus on several basic Principles I suggest are critical if we want politics to be effective.  As you will see, the Principles involve responsibilities we have as citizens, and responsibilities our leaders have.

1. The conditions a new president and administration inherit from the previous administration DO matter.

When the White House changes from one party to another---be it from Republican to Democrat or Democrat to Republican---it is grossly irresponsible for the previous party to deny the role they and their policies played in creating crisis conditions.  Simply criticizing the new administration for not instantly “fixing” those conditions is like blaming the new occupant of a house for the leaky roof and insecure walls built by the construction company.

2.  In especially difficult times when problems are everywhere, the public needs to exercise at least a little bit of patience.

I know, difficult times can tempt us to be even more impatient than usual.  We want the problems solved, and solved now.  But each of us has learned from our own experiences that effective and sustainable improvements result from a process made up of steps.  Some of those steps take more time than we would like, but they do indeed take time.  To withdraw support from a leader who has had only a short time in his or her development of a process is ignoring the realities and the responsibilities of citizenship.

It well may be that a new president who inherits a deep crisis is almost in a no-win situation.  Partly because of the violation of Principles #2 above, a new president is greatly tempted to try to do everything at once, and do it quickly.  To be sure, in a deep crisis so many of the problems are interrelated and interdependent.  It is virtually impossible, not to mention ineffective, to try to isolate any one of the many tentacles of the crisis and deal with it alone.  Yet, special interest groups demand such an approach.  Each group clamors for its pet issue to be dealt with first.  The wise leader chooses which priorities are most essential to getting a process of improvement started.  That usually means those first priorities are realistically “doable”, and can lead to next steps. 

The success of a leader depends in part on his or her effectiveness, but also on the attitudes, priorities, and behavior of individuals, groups, and institutions.....and a bit of good fortune.  We need to give our leaders a fair amount of time to sow the seeds of improvement.

3.  Trying to block any and everything the other political party is doing without proposing viable alternatives ruins the political process for everyone.

I suggest it is severely destructive when leaders and citizens put political party ahead of everything else.  It has reached such a deplorable state that opposition leaders even state publicly they hope the other party’s leaders fail.  It doesn’t seem to matter that such “failure” will damage the nation and its people.  As long as it results in “my” political party seizing power, then it’s justified.  We the public perpetuate such behavior when we define our political selves primarily by party.

4.  When a new leader inherits a crisis, he or she must find a good balance between energizing Hope and confidence on the one hand, and being realistic in issuing promises and choosing priorities on the other hand.

Effective communication is an art.  In my opinion, far too often communication is seen as primarily being an exercise in “convincing” others.  To the contrary, I suggest the most important aspects of effective communication are (a) clarity, (b) honesty, (c) proposing instead of demanding, and (d) promising to try 100% rather than promising specific outcomes.  I have always said, “Effective outcomes emerge from effective process”.  To me, that means a leader should “promise” to develop a process that will help us discover what needs to be done, can be done, and how to do it.  Promising specific outcomes at the outset ignores the lessons a process can teach us, and gets leaders in trouble.     

 


Dudley Weeks

(Copyright 2010: Domestic and international law prohibits the public use of this article without the written permission of the author. Any reprint must bear the author’s name and notice of legal restrictions.