Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Listen up Mr. President, I'm on your side!

President Bush has a serious problem. He seems to have lost his way. This is of course a typical second term affliction for US presidents. I hope it’s temporary. In Bush’s case his natural inclinations have served to aggravate the situation. He needs to do something and he needs to do it fast.

Now I’ve been a staunch supporter of Bush since he defeated McCain in the 2000 primaries. I certainly have no beef with the president over being at war with Iraq, over his general strategy for the war on terror, or over wiretapping American phone calls to Karachi. These are issues for his ideological enemies, and obviously that’s not my problem.

Nor am I going to take the president to task from the right for immigration issues, overspending on social programs, etc., although these are serious issues. They are a problem for his “conservative base” to deal with. No I am more worried about a problem Bush is having with his real base. The American people as a whole; who are looking to him for leadership.

Leadership is complicated function of human interaction. Different leaders have different styles. Some styles are more persuasive, some are more imperative. Different styles work better in different circumstances. Great leaders are able to adjust as the situation requires, good ones make the effort.

Bush as a leader seems to tend toward the imperative. Notice I said imperative not imperial. Bush tends to lean on his closest advisers, and then make decisions and charge ahead, without much in the way of broader consultations. This can be a very effective strategy for wartime leadership, and in some ways it as served Bush fairly well.

Among the leadership qualities that support Bush’s style of leadership are loyalty, decisiveness, moral courage and certitude. Bush has these in spades. But there are leadership skills more associated with persuasive leadership that even imperative leaders need: communication skills, the ability to listen, to persuade, empathy and compassion. I’m not saying that the President lacks empathy or compassion, but he and his administration are struggling with the need to be more persuasive in their leadership style.

The evidence is everywhere. The Dubai port deal, shows his deaf ear. Once Bush understood the arguments for allowing an Arab owned company to run port facility functions, he saw no need to prep the Congress or the American public, he announced it as virtual fait accompli, allowing Democratic opposition in congress to make public hay by pandering to fear and prejudice. And he allowed them to enlist Republicans in Congress to help. I understand Bush’s arguments for the deal, and I buy them. What I can’t understand is why he didn’t coordinate a better press campaign before announcing it.

With the country at war for the last four and a half years and with the military and it’s National Guard units operating under enormous strain, Bush allowed the Pentagon to promote a budget plan that would cut seventeen thousand troops from the Guard. This without consulting the nations fifty governors who share supervisory authority over the Guard, and rely on them to respond to natural disasters, terrorism and other home state emergency. I am not protesting Bush’s use of the Guard in the war, nor the long lasting deployment of Guard assets overseas. But I’m distressed that Bush, and his Defense Department have failed to see the importance of sharing decision making with leaders who share responsibility. Again a deaf ear.

The total number of wounded in Iraq so far has been nearly 17,000. More have been wounded in Afghanistan. More will be wounded before withdrawal. Many of these veterans will need long term medical care. Other vets will develop health care issues due to participating in the long war. Some will develop as yet undiagnosed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depleted uranium and other toxic materials in the Iraqi environment will affect the health of others. These numbers will stream into the hundred thousand range eventually. Yet Bush has issued budget projections indicating a decrease in Veteran’s benefit spending by fiscal 2008. A deaf ear for the warriors fighting this war.

Soldiers: active, reserve, and guard; veterans, and the families of all the above. We have been the Bush administration’s base. We have borne the brunt of this war. We have stood with him for the most part. We have done our duty. We have trusted him, followed his lead. But now, somehow, the president and his team have lost touch with us. In the aftermath of 9/11, the president had the confidence of the American people. The president is the kind of leader to charge ahead, but every once and a while when you lead from the front, you have to look over your shoulder and make sure that you are actually leading. That your followers are following.

The challenges that we are facing: terrorism and the need to reorganize our security apparatus, Iran, budget challenges in this new environment. These all require a national consensus. This requires consultation and explanation. It requires communication. The American people want to be led, but they need to know where, how and even why. Bush needs to shake up his team now,immediately, and he needs to start with his political strategy and communication teams. Because I Am his base. And right now I no longer no where or why he’s heading.

Thanks again to the folks in Mudville


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