Bill Crawford: Too many pleaders and plodders, too few leaders

December 10, 2012 10:07:55 AM



In tough times we expect strong leadership from public officials. These days our officials come from one of three types: leaders, pleaders, and plodders. 


Leaders are those who get things done. We still see them at the local and state levels, but they are becoming extinct at the national level. 


Pleaders are those able -- and insistently willing -- to tell us what to do, why to do it, and how to do it, but unable to get it done. They dominate the political scene these days, particularly Washington. 


Plodders are those who hold leadership positions but depend on leaders and pleaders for marching orders. Most of Congress now seems to fit this category. 


We are prompted by the media to remember former leaders who won through opposing forces to get important things done in tough times - House Speaker Tip O'Neill and President Ronald Reagan; House Speaker Newt Gingrich and President Bill Clinton. They even use the movie "Lincoln" to contrast current officials as pleaders who talk versus Abe Lincoln as a leader who got difficult things done. 


How is it that our national public officials have devolved into mere caricatures of real leaders? 


How is it that so many who were highly effective leaders as governors, businessmen, legislators, etc., devolve into pleaders, or worse, plodders, when they get to Washington? 


My perspective is that this results from the ever-growing influence of big-money controlled, special interest driven, partisan politics. 


In his day, the late Congressman G. V. "Sonny" Montgomery, a conservative Democrat, would occasionally step across the aisle to vote with Republicans. So, too, did the late Senator John Stennis. Such independence today is not only frowned upon, but punished. The Republican House "steering committee" just ousted four Congressmen from leadership positions for failing to fall in line. 


Yes, today's congressmen, senators, and presidents are expected to march in lockstep behind positions determined by party leadership. These party positions are heavily influenced by the never-ending efforts to raise money and posture candidates and issues for future elections. That means aligning positions to those preferred by special interests and big money. How else do conservative tax enemy Grover Norquist and liberal social spending ally MoveOn.Org have such influence? 


Real leaders forge alliances, broker deals, and make concessions to win through. Today's potential leaders find themselves shackled to their party's apparatus and discouraged to reach across the aisle to win through. Thus, the Gang of Eight in the Senate, composed of independent senators from both parties, has little traction with Democrat Majority Leader Harry Reid or Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. 


Inexcusably, the coercive system they permit to operate works to diminish potential leaders to pleaders or plodders. 


Can none from the Capitol or White House break free and win through?