the blog

A Stunning Leadership Vacuum

Since my topic is leadership, it is timely to comment on the goings on in the world of high finance. In addition, my base of operations is none other than Greenwich, CT, an epicenter of the disaster. Greenwich, as many know, is often described as the leafy suburb of New York City that is home to many titans of industry including several in the news this week, such as Richard Fuld, CEO of now bankrupt Lehman Brothers, as well as legions of investment bankers and corporate lawyers who count as my neighbors.

What the heck happened? Seems no one knows! Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke are making it up as they go along. SEC Chairman Christopher Cox has been asleep at the wheel as the slow-mo crisis has unfolded. President Bush almost certainly doesn’t understand it and neither do our congressional leaders. Senator Christopher Dodd, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, and one of my senators, doesn’t seem to have a clue, though he and other senators and congressmen haven’t missed an opportunity to get themselves on TV so they can look strong, knowledgeable and in control this election season. And our pitiful presidential candidates have fared equally poorly. Senator John McCain is the ranking member and former chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Senator Barack Obama serves on 4 committees, none of them having anything to do with the problems at hand. Neither one of them has said anything that has inspired any confidence.

These men are supposed to be our best and brightest? Oh. My. God.

I surely don’t understand what is going on, but I have an excuse. I really want to, though. Yet not one of them or any person in a position to do so has managed to explain it to me – in terms I can understand. This shows a stunning lack of leadership and an even more alarming lack of empathy and compassion for the tens of millions of citizens whose lives are directly affected and who are being asked to shell out close to a trillion dollars to shore up the system. The WIIFM factor (what’s in it for me) is sorely missing. Oh, there is lots of dense gobbledygook and high-fallutin’ lingo that they seem to think we get. Or maybe it’s that they’re really speaking to each other, comforting each other in that Greenwich country club kind of way, the common folk on the outside looking in, noses pressed up against the window trying to steal a glimpse. Or maybe it’s on purpose, designed in some way to keep the rest of us out of the loop and off balance, confused and, thus, more likely to let these “great men” save us without having to be held to account. If that sounds like a conspiracy theory, so be it.

I’ll tell you this: Statements emanating from our so-called leaders have been disgraceful. They seem to think their insipid explanations are good enough as long as they include words like “bold” and “urgent.” The paternalistic return to “trust me” is insulting. My late father would have had a phrase for all these legends in their own minds: too smart by half.

This is the very sad state of our leadership. Our great country, this exceptional incubator of ideas, supporter of innovation and nurturer of talent has been brought to its knees by a group of people with 2400 SAT scores. And I, for one, am less comforted or enthused than ever by the choices these cynical geniuses have placed before us on November 4.

Copyright 2008 Ruth Sherman.  All Rights Reserved.

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