Monday, January 23, 2006

Leadership in Government


When we complain of a lack of leadership in government, are we wishing for a leader who takes a "my way or the highway" approach, forcing his will upon the legislature, or are we looking for a consensus builder? Describing leadership in local government, Joe Ohren suggests it is the latter:
When strongly held views clash, and no single position commands a majority, then we either postpone action or work out a compromise. And, despite the fact that for some that term has negative connotations - selling out your principles or maybe even muddling through - it represents the best of politics and politicians.

What we call lack of leadership is often another label for lack of agreement. We want our mayors or school board chairs to be more effective at facilitating and finding consensus rather than muddling through. For me, that means being more effective politicians, since what is politics if not accommodating multiple and conflicting values, facilitating the decision process and avoiding the conflict, rancor and deadlock that result when we "stick to our guns." Muddling through is endemic to democracy.
On a national scale, it seems that Clinton often worked toward consensus (not controlling Congress for most of his Presidency, he had to), and despite any number of scandals left office with a high approval rating. Bush tried his "my way or the highway" approach with issues such as Social Security and, despite having a majority in both houses of Congress, stumbled badly and, at least by whatever standard is measured by opinion polls, is unpopular. I think both could have taken notes from the other - sometimes Clinton sought compromise over issues which called for direct leadership, and Bush often seems to display contempt for compromise where it is not likely to result in the outcome he desires. But at least by the measure of the last two Presidents, regardless of what our pundits have to say about the Democrats lack of leadership, at least in retrospect the public seems to have a greater appreciation for a President who can build consensus.

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