Now that Republicans are in full control of Congress, they have an opportunity to exhibit strong, constructive leadership. Instead, the Republican leaders have chosen to make a parody of leadership.
A parody is deliberate, exaggerated imitation of the particular way someone does something that is calculated to produce a comic result. What makes a parody humorous is mocking, mimicking and overplaying the noticeable aspects of a certain situation or activity.
The Tina Fey portrayal of Gov. Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live is a classic case of parody. And if the issues facing the country were not so important, the actions of the Republican leaders in Congress would serve as a humorous parody of leadership that might be seen on Saturday Night Live or The Comedy Channel.
It seems too easy and almost cruel and unusual punishment to pick on Republican Congressional leaders for their absence of any ability to exhibit even a modicum of positive, productive leadership. Talk about shooting fish in a barrel; chastising Republican leaders for a famine of leadership is like going on an elephant hunting safari in Africa and discovering all the elephants shackled by chains.
Now before you climb up on your high horse and ride off in a huff thinking this is an attack piece on Republicans in general, it’s not. Rather, this blog is intended to be a lesson in leadership – good or bad – that we can all learn from. Often we can learn just as much – if not more – from what people do wrong as we can from what they do right. This is a case where Republican leaders are showing us what leadership is by doing just the opposite of what leaders should do.
Getting Leadership Right from the Start
There is little political divide or argument over the fundamental essence of effective leadership. Without a clear vision of what needs to be done to solve problems or to move forward, leadership cannot exist. Leadership is about proposing, not opposing.
That does not mean there can’t be honest debate and disagreement over what should be done or even how it is done, but it should be conducted in an environment that seeks a solution, not a stalemate. Nor is leadership an individual sport. It calls for honesty, openness, collaboration, and compromise. Most important of all, it demands a commitment to achieve the vision—no matter who gets the credit.
Imagine yourself serving as chairman of a committee charged with solving a vexing problem. But every time you demonstrate your leadership by offering a proposal to solve the problem, a majority of the committee opposes it – and rejects it out of hand. No matter what solution you offer – even ideas that the majority had previously endorsed – the majority of the committee rejects it.
When you ask this group to offer their own ideas for a solution, their response is silence, except to reiterate their opposition to anything you propose and criticize you as a weak leader for the failure to solve the problem. How frustrated would you feel? Would the committee produce any constructive results?
Now with the mandate from the voters to provide leadership, the problem for the Republican leaders is that they have been in such a hardened opposition mode for so long, that any leadership ability has fossilized to the extent that they have become incapable of providing any new or constructive ideas.
A Case in Point
The current stalemate over the funding of the Homeland Security Department (HSD) is a telling example of the GOP’s policy of deliberately impeding good lawmaking. The Republicans have attached an outlier in the bill rescinding President Obama’s Executive Order on immigration. Now tell me: Is it good leadership for the Republicans to put themselves in a position to be blamed for failure to fund HSD, especially in these times, simply because they are at odds with Obama on immigration? The Republicans know they can’t win this battle, either with votes or public opinion, yet they press forward and hold HSD hostage. That is a clear example of obstructionism, not leadership.
Maybe the Republicans forget they are in full control of Congress. If they are hell-bent on reversing Obama’s executive order on immigration they could pass HSD funding (sans immigration) on one day and bring up immigration for full debate the next day. The problem is that the Republican leaders are mired in the politics of opposition, not focused on vision and leadership. The truth is that the only idea Republican leaders have put forward on immigration was Mitt Romney’s suggestion of “self-deportation.”
(As a side note: Do you know what Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and Truman’s order to desegregate the army had in common with Obama’s action on immigration? They were all executive orders issued because Congress failed to act.)
The Republicans vociferously opposed Obamacare and since its passage the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has voted 57 times to repeal it. Obamacare may be a poor solution to the health care issues in the country, but what alternative have the Republicans offered? The Republicans have opposed, but they have never once proposed a single alternative idea. Not even one suggestion as to how to improve it; just total and complete opposition. Let me repeat: Leadership is about proposing, not opposing.
The Republican leaders are now attempting to take up the mantle of protectors-of-the-middle class, lamenting the issues of stagnant wages, job flight and wealth disparity. That is a good thing; these are important problems that need to be addressed and resolved. Unfortunately, but true to their pledge to oppose anything and everything, the Republican approach to improving the plight of the middle class is to blame Obama for causing the problem. This is like the drunk driver who veers across the road and causes a horrible accident, and then blames the other driver for being on the road.
In fairness to the Republican leaders, they have had a vision for the past six years. In the same week that President Obama was inaugurated, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell (Is it just me or when you see a picture of McConnell, doesn’t he look like an aged Howdy Doody?) told a group or Republican leaders that their number one objective would be to oppose anything and everything that Obama would propose. At least give the Republican leaders credit for sticking to this pledge, but by no stretch of the imagination could that be called leadership.
It would be of immense value to the Republican Party – not to mention the country – if its leaders could discover and practice the art of real leadership. But doing so won’t be easy, because when one has for so long made a parody of leadership, it is difficult to be taken seriously.
This is a good lesson for all of us who profess a desire to be leaders. Remember, leadership is about creating a vision and then offering a plan to achieve it. If one seeks to be a successful leader they have to understand that it will require sacrifice and compromise; it will demand a willingness to be open to the ideas of others and an understanding that success is more likely when all work together to achieve the objective. A leader has to understand that it is not their way or no way, but that any way that achieves the vision is the right way.
The Republican leaders have a unique opportunity to demonstrate that they can be real leaders. They have the stage to show that they have the best ideas to confront the challenges facing America. Until Republican leaders understand and accept that in order to demonstrate their leadership prowess, they have to have the creativity and courage to step up and propose something – anything – they will rightly be viewed as no more than a parody of leadership. And that’s not funny.