June 01, 2023

Lessons in Leadership to be Learned

When he was chief of staff in the Obama White House, early in the Great Recession meltdown, Rahm Emanuel famously said, "Never let a crisis go to waste."

If he had a functioning crystal ball, it might have reflected today's reality. With pyromaniacs like Representatives Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene as de facto hostage-takers in the lunatic asylum posing as the House Republican Caucus — only nominally led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy — the Federal Government looks scarily similar to Thelma and Louise speeding toward the canyon rim. At newsletter deadline time, there was no guarantee that the brakes would be applied in time. 

Average Americans either look on in horror or continue watching Fox “News” or reading their favorite social media, munching happily on junk food like so many tranquilized farm animals en route to the slaughterhouse. How did The World's Greatest Democracy, ostensible leader of the Free World, inflict such pain on itself? There are lessons in leadership to be learned, and they apply both at the level of Democrats Abroad and back home in every state and Congressional District as well as Washington, D.C. 

A popular axiom in both politics and warfare says that effective leadership means never taking a strategic decision earlier than necessary. This makes sense, provided that the decision-makers understand when that critical moment arrives. On Sunday May 28, as details of an agreement between the White House and Speaker McCarthy were being carefully leaked by both sides to media inside the Beltway, The New York Times reported that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen

understood timing as soon as the GOP narrowly captured the House last November. She urged immediate action by the Administration and Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill to increase the debt limit before January 3 this year, while our party still held control. They decided otherwise, a regrettable failure of leadership.

Secretary Yellen, testifying before the House Financial Services Committee in 2021, succinctly put the case: "When Congress legislates expenditures and puts in place tax policy... it is very destructive to put the President and the Treasury Secretary in a position where they are unable to pay the bills that result from those past decisions." This is straightforward Civics 101. The debt ceiling, enacted by Congress in 1917 and in no way a Constitutional mandate, is an artificial, self-imposed constraint on paying for goods and services previously ordered by Congress. Amazon only delivers what the customer pays for. J.P. Morgan Chase expects its customers to settle their mortgage payments on time. Why should the US Government presume to do otherwise, putting "the full faith and credit" of the nation at risk?

The coming days will show who in Washington is exercising responsible leadership and who would rather burn down the house and risk global financial and economic turmoil. In November 2024, American voters will also be required to show individual and collective responsibility in choosing their leaders. Political extremists on both the far right and the extreme left will be peddling their snake oil remedies, with the Carnival Barker in Chief probably leading the GOP parade. As Democrats, we need to exercise leadership at every level to promote registration and voting for sane candidates and rational policymakers.