Can American leaders lead?
By Alan Hart
The longer version of the headline question is this: Given the corruption of the American political system which puts what passes for democracy up for sale to the highest lobby bidders, will any U.S. President (not only a second-term Obama) ever be able to shape and implement policies which best serve the longer term interests of all Americans rather than the short-term interests of the most powerful lobbies?
Usually that question or something very like it is asked in the context of the Israel-Palestine conflict, when a president has demonstrated with rhetoric a desire to advance the co-called peace process and has been blocked by the Zionist (not Israel) lobby and its stooges in Congress. But today, following the slaughter of the innocents in Connecticut, the question has a domestic context.
Something close to despair could be detected in a piece written for the New York Times by op-ed columnist Charles M. Blow. His opening words were these: “Another day, another mass shooting in America. When, and how, will this end? In fact, will it ever end?”
Blow quoted the words of a visibly shaken and tearful President Obama. “As a country, we have been through this too many times. We’re going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.”
Blow went on: “I agree. I only hope that in coming days we flesh out what ‘meaningful action’’ means in policy terms. If not now, when? After the next shooting? How many more deaths and mass shootings will it take for Washington to begin to lead the country in a deeper conversation about sensible gun controls? What will it take for our politicians to take firm and principled positions on gun policies and stand up to the gun lobby in this country? Surely this is a moment that calls all of us to reckoning.”
Echoing Blow’s despair, the New York Times concluded its editorial with these words: “The more that we hear about gun control and nothing happens, the less we can believe it will ever come. Certainly it will not unless Mr. Obama and Congressional leaders show the courage to make it happen.”
The comment of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is also co-chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, seemed to be driven more by real anger than despair. He said in a statement: “Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough, We need immediate action. We have heard all the rhetoric before. What we have not seen is leadership – not from the White House and not from Congress. That must end today.”
Fine words but they take me back to my headline question – Can American leaders lead?
The short answer it seems to me is “No” – they will never be able to lead so long as America’s political system remains as corrupt as it is. And the only way to clean up the corruption is by putting election campaigning off limits to lobby funding.
That is the real reckoning to which Americans are being called.