The test of leadership is efficacy. In politics, elected leaders must pursue their principles in a manner that respects but is not entirely subordinate to the desires of a majority of constituents. That requires a balance between ardently advocating one’s own ideology and strategically accepting and respecting contrary views of equally sincere leaders. In 2013, as we witness one more sad chapter in the deterioration of our democratic principles, we are experiencing the consequences of failed leadership across the entire political spectrum.
Sincerity is important, but when one is vested with the responsibility and authority to manage public affairs it is not enough. Working within a democratic system requires an understanding that the concepts of compromise and acceptance are honorable strategies in the pursuit of the peaceful, civil and effective resolution of differences and disputes.
Responsible leadership lies somewhere between the extremes of expediency, unanchored to any principle beyond self-interest, and the passionate, self-righteous sense of integrity that leads to fanaticism.
Politics has been called the art of the possible because democracy requires accepting that points of view thought to be foolish must be accommodated within a constitutional structure. The ultimate test of democracy is efficacy. The failure to get things done, to keep things moving, to keep the government open — that is a failure of leadership and a betrayal of the fundamental principles of democracy.
The politics of anger and power, the dominance of political gamesmanship and manipulation, are inherently anti-democratic. Elected officials who do not understand or can’t do their job should be removed, not because they lack character, but because they are incompetent.
In the end, however, we get the government we deserve. It’s been said that in a democracy every citizen is a public official with responsibilities to the common good. A citizenry that ignored the inevitable consequences of gerrymandering and that looks the other way, or cheers on blind partisanship and encourages gridlock, has failed in its role as public officials.
Shame on them. Shame on us!