Tuesday, August 23, 2016

David Brooks Attempts To Explain Why Leadership Fails In The US

David Brooks correctly observes the failure of leadership in our political system.  He understands that politicians are forced to deal with powerful private interest groups but he insists that politicians with the proper motivation can rise above the pressures placed upon them by those who hope to manipulate the political system.  He argues that politicians are either motivated by careerism or by ideals which lead them to view a political job as a vocation. The system can wear down the idealists, and turn those who entered politics to serve the public interest, but he holds that the properly  motivated politician can be an effective leader.  He concludes that Hillary Clinton entered politics with the proper motivations but that she has been worn down by the system.  He wishes her luck if she wins the election. In order to succeed she will have to shed her careerist shell and ignite the idealism which caused he to enter politics as a vocation.  In other words, if Hillary Clinton does not succeed as a leader it will her own fault.

David Brooks is a very smart person and lots of smart people read his articles in the New York Times. I have listed a few of the comments that I found insightful below:

*  It would be hard to find a politician who was more vocationally oriented when he was elected twice as our president.  The Republican leader of the Senate declared that his objective was to limit the president to one term in office.  Its hard to assess Obama's leadership ability without considering the careerist motivations of the Republican senators who did want him to succeed.  The same could be said for Republicans in the House and even for Democrats who had to face elections in conservative states.  Hillary Clinton will face the same obstacles to leadership as those which Obama faced.

*  Money has always played a powerful role in politics because candidates must raise large sums of money in order to run for office.  We have made it easier for money to affect elections in the US in two ways.  It costs more money to run a successful campaign with each election cycle.  Moreover, the Supreme Court made a decision which made it easier for individuals and groups to contribute unlimited amounts of money to candidates who want to run for office.  They audition the candidates before granting them the funds that would enable them to run a political campaign. That places a limit on the quality and number of candidates that run for office.  In a sense elections are over before they begin.  David Brooks and most Republicans have not opposed the decision by the Supreme Court.

* Ronald Reagan declared that government cannot provide solutions to our problems.  He told us that government is the problem.  That has become the motto of the Republican Party.  How can a president lead our country if the goal is to limit the role of government in our society?  David Brooks and most Republicans share the same opinion about limiting the role of government.  That is why they promote tax cuts that benefit their friends and why they oppose the use of fiscal policy in recessions.  Reducing budget deficits is more important to them than reducing unemployment.  Those who contribute to their campaigns do not face the risk of unemployment.

* The GOP primary campaign was won by Donald Trump.  David Brooks is one of many who question the ability of Donald Trump to be an effective president.  He won the GOP primaries for two reasons:  His opponents were unable to provide a compelling reason why they were good candidates for president; The GOP has cultivated a base that responded favorably to Donald Trump because it, and many in the media, have conditioned millions to believe much of what was on offer from Donald Trump who understood the GOP base better than they did.  The GOP base did not believe that the candidates favored by the "establishment" were motivated to serve their interests.  They were perceived as careerists and Trump was viewed as the vocational leader that Brooks described.

* The Democratic primary was a contest between Hillary Clinton, who has a low favorability rating for many reasons, and Bernie Sanders who had little chance of winning the nomination until he inspired many disillusioned Democrats to support the populist agenda which defined the Democratic Party during a period in which labor unions provided the funds and votes that were needed to win elections and legislate social welfare programs.  Sanders did better than many expected but that was not enough to win the nomination.  The striking thing about the Democratic primary, however, may not have been the contest between Clinton and Sanders.  What struck me and many others was that it was hard to come up with the names of Democrats who would be strong candidates for the presidency.  The shortage of strong Democratic candidates, and the large number of weak Republican candidates, raises an important question that Brooks did not consider.  We have not been able to attract large numbers of vocational leaders, like those described by Brooks.  Most of those attracted to politics are either career motivated when the enter the game or they have been worn down by the system as they move up the ladder.


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