Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Comfort of Leadership

On the news last night, Our President looked as grim and pained as if someone had just kicked him in the balls. He spoke to the country for the umpteenth time during this economic crisis and, as usual, essentially said nothing.

We desperately need a leader who can calm our fears and motivate our best behavior, someone who understands how to soothe and rally. FDR did that for America during the Depression with his renowned fireside chats and, of course, his legendary admonishem, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” If Bush were a mensch as well as a real leader, he would say something like this:

“Listen to me, everybody. Things are bad and I know you’re afraid. But sit down, take a deep breath and focus. I apologize for anything I may have done to help bring us to this point. Before I go, I want to do whatever I can to help get us out of it. But I need your help and I need your trust, one last time. We can get out of this thing; we will get out of it, if we’re willing to express our patriotism as optimism and cooperation, and be both brave and generous in the face of what’s happening. It all depends on what each of us does and what we do together.

“To Wall Street I say: traders, counsel your clients, and, clients, keep a cool head. Stop driving the market into the ground and hold tight. Things will bounce back, they always do, but they’ll bounce back better and faster if we don’t let our fears create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Stop the crazy sell-off. Show your faith in the companies you’re invested in and help them ride out this storm. Remember that the whole world is following our example of fear and urgently needs our example of courage. This is a chance to show how resilient and resolute and resourceful America can be.

“To the financial industry I say: stand up like grown-ups and admit you behaved irresponsibly – then show you mean it by supporting this country like good and true corporate citizens. Give businesses and individuals the loans they need. Work with the Treasury and the Fed to give folks a second and a third chance to get on their feet and handle realistic mortgages. Remember that money may be your stock-in-trade, but you’re dealing with real people and their real lives, their real homes, their real businesses. Do the real right thing.

“To employers I say: Hold on. Don’t lay people off if you possibly can – and redefine “possible” in a way that takes the greatest good into consideration. Remember that you are one link in a long chain that makes up the economy. And the old adage about the chain only being as strong as its weakest link has never been more true than it is right now. Do your part to be the strongest link you can be. Be loyal to your employees and they’ll be loyal to you.

“Everybody: stay true to your core values. Don’t hide, don’t cower, don’t run. Don’t give in to greed or anger or meanness, because those things are always the byproducts of fear. Nobody benefits from fear, and nobody ultimately benefits by only watching out for Number One. We are all Number One, one country, one people, and if we all put our best feet forward, we can create one great big recovery.”

Alas, I’m not holding my breath.

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