I remember as a kid I used to watch my dad drive and think, that doesn’t look so hard. After all, I was pretty good at driving the bumper cars at the amusement park, and how much different could this be? I also remember the first time my dad let me behind the wheel on a Sunday morning in a deserted shopping mall parking lot and said, “drive”. I suddenly realized that it’s a lot harder than it looks. As we get older we realize that things look a lot different from the outside looking in than when we suddenly find ourselves on the inside. We have all known people who talk a good game, but never seem to achieve success when given the opportunity. As we get older we either gain the humility that affords us the caution to go slowly, take advice and stay focused, or the hubris that affords us nothing but self-centered reactive behavior. Leadership by definition must be proactive not reactive. Yet the so-called GOP leadership of the House and Senate have been playing a game of reactive catchup ever since their term began. They are confronting deep internal conflicts and are having great difficulty developing a coherent and consistent approach to governance. They actually had greater success as the “party of no” than they are having as the party in charge.
I believe that part of the difficulty the GOP is having is the result of an interesting paradox. While we have more opportunity for communication than ever in the history of the world, many choose to communicate at an incredibly narrow bandwidth, receiving and providing only a limited perspective and information. This is particularly true of the GOP. It is interesting that they often accuse the Democrats of listening only to voices “within the beltway”, while they, in fact, have narrowed their sources of information to a very few skewed outlets. Successful leaders seek information from many sources, even from those with whom they disagree, as they seek to develop viable solutions and responses to issues. The fact that the GOP has marked as irrelevant, biased and invalid all information that doesn’t come from their echo chamber, makes their decision-making very difficult. It is for this reason that they often seem out of touch with the prevailing attitudes and opinions of the nation.
An additional impediment to their ability to effectively assume the mantel of leadership is their need to be reactive. They so disdain the President that they spend all of their time reacting to him rather than providing their own solutions. The President, aware of this pattern, has challenged the GOP to lead. He has challenged them to provide their own solutions on immigration, pay equity, marriage equality, gun control, tax reform and a host of other issues confronting the country. Instead, what do they choose to do? Rather than doing the hard work required of leaders, they create tension between the US and one of our closest allies by inviting Netanyahu without the President’s knowledge or agreement, to speak before a joint session of Congress. They have not only failed to lead on the important issues of the day, they have shown themselves to be completely irresponsible in the manner in which they have clumsily inserted themselves into an area usually reserved for the Executive Branch.
While they have often complained about the lack of communication between the President and congressional leadership, it is interesting to note that during this critical period, the two leaders, Mr. Boehner and Mr. McConnell, have not met or spoken to one another in two weeks. Not only are they not receiving unbiased and objective information, they are not even working with one another.
Thus far, the GOP has shown itself to lack the skill, judgement, maturity or humility to lead, let alone govern. They were much better at saying “no” than they are at providing answers and solutions to the problems and issues of the day. I frankly don’t expect it to change as the 2016 circus moves into full campaign mode. The internal conflicts and bizarre opinions will be out there for us all to see. It is clear that neither their last President, not their current leadership, has given us any reason to believe that they are capable of governance. It is harder than it looks.