Leadership — Or the Lack Thereof

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It all boils down to leadership, or the lack of it. You win or lose according to the quality of your leadership. That’s true in sports and in government and in life. That’s what America needs right now more than anything else.

Our system of government is fine. Even the circumstances we find ourselves in — huge public and private debt, a deteriorating economy, a stressed environment and two wars — are manageable with the right leadership. That’s where we have failed so far. We have elected men and women not up to the task of leadership. A good first step in correcting this is to read "A Time to Fight," by Jim Webb.

I don’t make any bones about it: Webb is the best political leader on the American scene. I wish he were president. He is fearless, honest, honorable and smart. He was a genuine hero in the Marine Corps, earning his medals as a platoon leader and commander of a rifle company. He’s a successful novelist. He served as an assistant secretary of defense and as a Navy secretary. Now he is a U.S. senator from Virginia. His election renewed my faith in the American people.

The new book is about leadership. Its subtitle is "Reclaiming a Fair and Just America."

He writes: "Entrenched aristocracies, no matter how we may want to define them, do not want change: their desire instead is to manage dissent in a way that does not disrupt their control. But over time, under the right system of government, a free, thinking people have the energy and ultimately the power to effect change."

Webb takes a sweeping view of all the problems we face — economic, political and military. I think you will be intrigued by his insight. He is that rarest of all beings, a scholar-warrior.

It’s no surprise that our leaders have declined in quality. What happens when a man wins the heavyweight boxing championship? He tends to ease up, to not train as hard, to put on weight. We came out of World War II the undisputed champion of the world. Our land was practically untouched by the war. Europe, China, the Soviet Union and Japan were all devastated. We could sell practically anything we made. It certainly looked like happy days were here again, and not a cloud on the horizon.

The first modern and bad leader was Jack Kennedy, a playboy and a philanderer. He was, like all martyred leaders, quickly elevated to sainthood, but in fact, his administration had been a disaster, especially in foreign policy. The Bay of Pigs never should have happened. He got us into the war in Vietnam. In the Cuban missile crisis, he gave up all of our intermediate-range missiles and guaranteed the permanence of the Fidel Castro regime.

It went more or less downhill from there. The federal government greatly expanded its powers not only in the area of national security, but in the economic and social areas, also. Debt, public and private, began to mushroom, and phony free-trade policies began to bleed off American manufacturing jobs. Morals began to decline. Today, we not only have armed guards in many public schools, we have the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world. We are the drug-consumption capital of the world.

How did we move from a society in which people in small towns and large cities once slept with the doors unlocked and their windows open to a nation of deadbolts and private security systems?

Poor leadership. Congress should have managed our budgets, and it failed to do so. It should have protected our manufacturing base, and it failed to do so. The courts should have backed discipline in the public schools, and too often they undermined it. There was a failure of leadership in academia, in government, in business, in journalism and in the military.

It is time to fight to restore leadership to every aspect of American life.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.

© 2008 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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