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Top Dog Leadership: Examining the Entrails of the U.S. Election

November 7, 2012


Well, it’s all over, folks. The dust is settling, the pundits are sharpening their pencils and Americans are asking themselves, “Can our elected officials get on with business and keep the country from careening over the fiscal cliff in 2013?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it appears America will still have a dysfunctional Congress and Senate. Many of the Senators whose terms were up for election have returned to the Senate. Watch this piece from last week’s 60 Minutes Is the U.S. Senate Broken? Correspondent Steve Kroft expresses his exasperation in an interview with 60 Minutes Overtime producers over the behavior of Democrat Senate leader Harry Reid and Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell.

But what of the re-election of President Barack Obama? He was in full hyperbole mode last night as he spoke to supporters in Chicago. Let’s see if he can put his money where his mouth is over the next four years; otherwise, he’ll leave office in 2016 similar to George W. Bush: a second ineffectual term and hence a weakened legacy.

I’m a Canadian, so Americans might ask the well-deserved question, “Jim, why should you and your 34 million fellow Canadians give a crap about our election? Let us suffer in the misery of bad political leadership.”

Sorry to disappoint you, folks, but any Canadian who doesn’t hold a special interest in how U.S. politics play out, and by implication the impact on its economy, should give his or her head a very hard shake. At one time, upwards of 88% of Canada’s exports went south of the border. That percentage has fortunately declined to around 72% as Canada has developed export relations with other countries.

But that’s on the economic side. The United States is Canada’s best friend and key ally. Period.

I’ve argued to American friends and relatives in the past that President Obama blew part of his first term by showing weak leadership on the economy. He diverted a lot of his energy towards healthcare reform, using up valuable political capital. Yes, at a macro level shortly after entering office in early 2009 he set about bailing out GM and Chrysler and pouring billions of dollars into Wall Street firms. However, he remained aloof during his term, leaving it to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke to do their work.

Geithner, in my mind, failed Americans by pandering to Wall Street. A series of new books on the financial bailout have hit the shelves, presenting that argument. Bernanke, in Keynesian fashion, did what he had to do keep injecting liquidity into the U.S. economy.

It wasn’t until President Obama faced the looming 2012 campaign that he realized that the unemployment rate was not coming down and that millions and millions of Americans were sorely hurting. That’s when he got the jobs religion. That’s when he rolled up his shirt sleeves and began talking to American businesses to help build confidence. That’s when he communicated to Americans that the economy would improve and to hang in.

This is rolled-up sleeves leadership, something that Barack Obama avoided for the most part during his first three years in office.

If there were ever an election that was handed to the opposing party this was it. It was a gift to the Republican party. Yet a once-proud party–the GOP–began to self-destruct, running a ragtag band of misfits for their nominee. The late night talk show hosts had a field day. Out of the mess emerged Willard Mitt Romney, the self-described business guru and one-term Massachusetts governor who would rescue America from fiscal collapse.

However, Mitt Romney quickly abandoned his moderate principles, enveloping himself in far-right talk and increasingly outlandish statements. His propensity to not just manipulate and exaggerate but outright lie during his campaign finally caught up to him. For example, his recent lie that Chrysler was going to close its Toledo, Ohio, automotive plant and move the operations to China was too much for many Americans. That plant, in fact, is expanding its workforce. And yes, Chrysler is also opening a plant in China. Good for Chrysler.

Astute pundits have noted that Romney was caught in a difficult situation if he wanted to receive the nomination from the Republican Party. Sure, except that he forgot that when it came time to appeal to all Americans that he needed to pull himself more towards the center of the political spectrum.

Yes, Barack Obama is a very lucky man. The Republicans handed him a second term. Now let’s see if he uses it for the best interests of his country.

Leaders are the ones who keep faith with the past, keep step with the present, and keep the promise to posterity.
– Harold J. Seymour


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