An End To Playground Politics

Opinion

 
on January 18 2013 10:52 AM
Inauguration Day
Guests arrive for the inauguration ceremony of U.S. President-elect Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States, in Washington, January 20, 2009. Reuters

With President Barack Obama’s second inauguration just round the corner, Americans should look forward to more of the meaningful change he promised in his first term.

Unfortunately, the changes we received included an even more intense partisan environment than the one he inherited, quick-fix “bandages,” and real changes endlessly deferred. Surveys continuously and overwhelmingly show that Americans supported compromise when it came to the recent fiscal cliff crisis. Perhaps what we were really saying is that we didn’t want a real solution, but rather for the immediate problem to go away. How many of us are living in the United States of Denial?
 
The problem is that many don’t want change if it’s accompanied by any degree of pain. Too often we look at each political crisis as an artificially placed fear to spur political concessions. We don’t really think any repercussions could actually take place. We know that something will be worked out. We believe we will resume our regularly scheduled life once the scandal of the day blows over.
 
Our fiscal arm is hanging by a thread and we accept the equivalent of slapping a bandage on as a viable solution. Sure, the fiscal cliff has been diverted, but we still have the national debt ceiling and looming insolvency of Medicare and Social Security. Denying these problems, and refusing to make sincere efforts to remedy them, isn’t going to make them disappear.
 
When we were children, we played kick-the-can and the can would continuously be kicked further down the street until the can got lost or we got bored. As adults, we’re still playing that game -- but with much higher stakes.

We don’t want to pick the can up and end the game. Instead, we prefer to kick it away and deal with it later. We attempt to avoid confrontation, and we suggest “compromise” is the answer to our problems.
 
Compromise can indeed be a useful tool, even in politics. However, recent political compromises have failed to introduce lasting change.

We say we want changes to our flawed political arena, but in today’s hyper-partisan world, we (and, by extension, our elected officials) aren’t willing to concede anything, making real change unlikely to occur. Yet we keep electing them, and then blame them when nothing gets done. It’s a never-ending game of dodge ball, Washington-style.
 
Effective change relies on honest, relevant and constant communication between the change team (in this case, our elected officials) and those affected by the change (the rest of us). Tragically, many consider the phrase “honest politician” an oxymoron. We tend to punish honest communication because it’s not what we want to hear. Thus, we actively encourage dishonest political communication, as long as the message meets our approval.

In fact, the continuous election cycle guarantees dishonest political communication, since the politicians are always running for re-election. The politicians may indeed be upstanding citizens and otherwise honest people, but their communication is anything but.

The simple truth is this: We -- American citizens -- have created and propagated the career politician.
 
If we truly want meaningful and enduring change, then we need to start by being honest with ourselves. We must be more informed. We must demand honest political communication without finger-pointing. We must stop punishing honest communication. But most of all we must demand and enforce accountability.
 
In most business organizations, if Nero were fiddling while Rome was burning, Nero would be terminated by the board of directors. If government were a business, we would adamantly insist on accountability. We wouldn’t stand for the continued spending of money we don’t actually have, so why do we tolerate and even encourage it with our government?

As stockholders, we demand accountability. As customers, we demand accountability. Excepting major scandals, as voters, we don’t really demand accountability. With relatively few exceptions, we keep voting them back in. Effective change relies on accountability, where each member of the team is accountable to each other but more importantly to those affected by the end result. If the incumbents can’t or won’t get it done, we must relieve them of their positions.
 
Of course, these changes wouldn’t be easy or immediate, but the return on the investment would be great -- namely an end to Washington’s game of dodge ball or kick-the-can, and real movement toward a better tomorrow.

Moe Glenner is the president and founder of PURELogistics, a consulting firm that specializes in change management. His new book, “Selfish Altruism: Managing & Executing Successful Change Initiatives,” explores best practices in organizational change.

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