Dickens wrote in a “Tale of Two Cities,” “It was the best of times and the worst of times.” This seems to fit America right now. The gulf between the haves and have nots is widening. Some are doing very well. Many are struggling and that is a shame living in the greatest and strongest nation on earth. Confidence in government is at an all-time low. Washington is turned inward on itself and there is a growing chasm between the people and the elected. Few, if any, are minding the store. We are consumed with partisan issues and need a unifying purpose and mission. This can only come from our leadership. And it is not.
There is no doubt the next few years will be defining for the United States. As the sole standing superpower our responsibilities are great at home and abroad. With domestic economic challenges and enemies at work globally it is a time for decisive leadership. It has not emerged from Washington. Leadership takes second chair to politics. Crisis after crisis mark the headlines and we have fumbled through most at best. The can is constantly kicked forward on major programs.
Sequester looms and will have devastating effects on defense and social programs. Congress can barely agree to disagree. Government needs to be controlled and can shrink but through compromise not across-the-board cuts just so some can claim victory in spending reductions. Across-the-board cuts in the private sector would have chilling effects on a company’s growth. Cuts are reasoned and made through deliberations by executive management. The short- and long-term effects are reviewed. That is why universal cuts seldom happen in a business unless it is extremely distressed. The nation has a debt problem but it can be managed with systemic, thoughtful reductions. Not by slash and burn.
The goal for a business cutting back is to strengthen the company and grow its capabilities in tough times. Not destroy the entity, morale of employees and its focus. Washington needs to take a lesson. We are governed by crisis management. There are no set long-term goals for us as a people.
Once we had the Last Frontier or were bound by the looming threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. Since its demise we struggle more and more to find our identity. Leadership requires giving the American people a mission beyond unwinnable wars. Where are we going? We are divided and leadership has a challenge to bring us together with some common ground or risk further setbacks that cannot be afforded.
Our government at these critical moments in history is broken. That is bad for everyone. There are three years left in the president’s administration. He can turn his leadership record around but it will require a more engaged and firm leadership style. We need a firm hand on the rudder. He must reach out putting political spin aside to develop relationships with Congress. He cannot get wasted years back but could influence his legacy and positive accomplishment if he would step up developing coalitions across both aisles. Lead from the front and firmly.
His credibility can be restored of problems were owned outright. His signature health care legislation might be saved if he were willing to admit major problems beyond just the website needing to be addressed with change, compromise and reforms. His major hurdle right now is establishing confidence with the American people. But this is the same task before Congress.
We cannot afford another year of gridlock, brinksmanship and political posturing. There remains a chance this president could initiate compromise to move the country forward tackling reforms in government with Congress. But Congress has to recognize their role in reaching back. We are treading water as a country and it is due to an unwillingness to put politics asides for the greater good.
As a superpower with a great democratic legacy our government must understand the importance of governing wisely and decisively. Right now our leaders are getting “Fs.” While they dither the country suffers. This is not acceptable. The American legacy is one rooted in greatness. America remains strong because of its people. Washington needs to take stock of the basis of the country’s greatness and work to unite a divided nation.
It should lead by legislating concrete and progressive change instead of arrogantly drawing lines in the sand that neither side will cross. Work together making the Affordable Healthcare Act viable through agreed reforms. End Sequester. Deal with Social Security. Set a clear foreign policy. The list, sadly, goes on and on. Doing nothing carries a huge price tag for the people, economy and benefits our adversaries.
We have been doing nothing too long. Much has to be done. Our leaders must exercise leadership.
PHIL G. BUSEY SR., an Edmond resident, is CEO of The Busey Group of Companies.