More than a year ago, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen spoke about how our growing national debt was becoming a national security threat. It was a stunning statement to come from a person far more versed in weaponry, troop deployments and the rest of the national security apparatus than economics. Annapolis, West Point and the other military service academies have more than their fair share of distinguished graduates that have changed world history but few of them would ever be labeled as strategic economists. Mullen’s statement was about as jarring a wake-up call to the national psyche as it was to the international community. A military man was telling the nation (and the world) that the United States could no longer afford to spend with abandon and not expect some grave consequences.

His comments were greeted by many with applause as well as proverbial head nodding by elected leaders of both political parties, affirming how serious the situation was and how we all needed to come together to get our economic house in order.

With that as a backdrop, along with the federal budget drama of the past year, Congressional leaders pledged to work together. Unable to adequately deal with the debt and spending issues within the confines of the House and Senate, the leaders of Congress formed a so-called Supercommittee that would craft a bipartisan plan to save us from ourselves. After a mere handful of public (and private) meetings, countless recommendations from budget experts, public interest groups and more pontificating for television cameras to keep the chattering classes chattering, as well as plenty of time to engage in individual fundraising efforts for re-election campaigns, we now have our end product.

Failure. In fact, it’s bigger than failure… it’s an absolute surrender of leadership.

The so-called Supercommittee that was made of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats to address a fundamental national security issue surrendered any sense of duty and sanity with a four-paragraph statement that should outrage every American who could stomach reading it.

Ideology on both sides of the political aisles took precedence over a mission that needed to be done.

I shudder to think if Adm. Mullen, his fellow officers and all of those uniformed military personnel serving in harm’s way adopted the leadership example that we’ve seen witnessed in the past few weeks by both sides of Congress and the President. If they did, our troop losses would be even greater than they already are and any ground gained and forward progress would have been surrendered to forces that in many ways are as destructive as our national debt.

Despite their deep held differences of opinion, the Framers of our country found compromises and respected a national priority over pandering partisanship and election cycle decision making. They all have to be sitting up in their respective graves and saying, “You have got to be kidding me!”

Never have the unprecedented poor performance ratings of the Congress and the President been more wholeheartedly earned and deserved.

Decisions that directly impact job creation, unemployment insurance, defense programs, fiscal sanity and more are routinely kicked down the road until after the next election cycle or farmed out to unprecedented committee creations for action.

Over the past few years (and more recently, the past few weeks), we have seen more and more examples of our elected leaders unwilling to make tough and potentially tough decisions and follow through with them. It has been a display of leadership cowardice of the highest order.

The facts are very simply this – If people are unwilling to make tough decisions or seek to abdicate them out to others so as to provide personal political cover (or preserve their own withering standing in the polls), they should step aside in favor of people with the courage to do something we don’t see much of anymore and that is LEAD!

Leadership in every form is difficult, and it is not without its challenges either. It is not always about impressive titles, photo ops, media adulations, awards ceremonies and rooms full of thunderous applause. It means sometimes having to make unpopular decisions that have uncomfortable consequences for everyone.

I would have so much more respect for the members of Congress and the President if they had made a decision either way on the budget and debt matters before us than to simply throw their hands up and walk away saying, “We give up.”

Imagine if that had been the attitude of the NASA crews working to rescue the crew of Apollo 13 as its wounded space capsule struggled to make it back to Earth. For those people and countless other examples of American history, “Failure was not an option.” In spite of overwhelming odds, they all worked together to forge solutions that were as risky as they were unprecedented. History records that some of those solutions were successes, others were failures, but they were collective efforts to make a difference. Probably most importantly is history recorded that they all valiantly tried to do the right thing.

That can’t be said here. Our leaders on both sides of the political aisles, in Congress and the Executive branch failed us, and I can think of no other more damning word than “failure” to describe their achievements.

There is something very un-American about that, but those are the facts of this moment and history will record that.

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More
  • Vox Populi

    How can one lead when his strategy is to PREVENT any substantive progress…I agree, that is not leadership, that is abdication of one’s sworn duty.  I cannot believe ANYONE is surprised at this deadlock…the GOP Congressional Leadership ensured the outcome by putting Norquist “no tax” pledgers on the Committee.  So the Super Committee failure was pre-ordained and the $1.2T meat axe trigger has been pulled.  The Congress still could act to make meaningful deficit reduction, but don’t look for that happening any time soon…as long as the GOP steadfastly refuses to consider ANY revenue increases on the so-far-exempted super rich and elimination of corporate welfare for profitable companies. 

    Reining in the deficit and getting our economy back on its feet is good for all of us…therefore all of us should be asked to contribute to the fix.  I am a strong believer in a healthy two party system where general agreement on “ends” with disagreement on means to get there kept both sides honest and America generally moving forward. But extreme ideologues have captured the formerly venerable GOP, causing a subordination of their responsibility to serve ALL the people to their rigid no tax increase dogma. 

    If corporate America wants to see this nation return to vibrant, growing markets, it must forcefully talk the GOP leadership into immediately dropping their scorched earth strategy of political gridlock and a return to rational compromise.  Clearly the GOP leadership has become tone deaf to popular opinion, thus it must be up to the GOP’s corporate allies to enlighten them on the need to quickly embrace a balanced approach to economic growth and deficit reduction before the Party becomes marginalized with horrific losses in 2012.