Some Things Never Change

Wow, what a week! We were vacationing in Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown all week and had a wonderful time. After spending several days in a Revolutionary spirit, we shifted forward about 80 years and travelled to Petersburg, where we relived the ending of the Civil War. The last day was spent in Richmond, VA and camped a wonderful historical week that has helped me to remember how important freedom is. As Patrick Henry once said to the House of Burgess in Richmond, VA “I know not what course others will take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!”

How hard is it to keep liberty? Benjamin Franklin answered a question raised by a Mrs. Powell, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” To which Benjamin Franklin responded, “ A republic, if you can keep it!” Keeping a republic is hard work that requires good people in leadership, just like running a successful business. Each need leaders who are willing to listen and learn from the circumstances around them.

I did keep an eye on the news as we were on vacation. It is amazing how the circle of life goes on. Horrible shootings, Governors visit areas in their state, and politicans are voted out of office. Here my wife and I have taken a week to step out of the flow of life, but yet we arrive home and nothing is different. Or is that really a true statement? Ed Barnes is now a county commissioner, and he intends to fulfill his role as being the thorn in the M&M boys side. This is good. Whenever someone thinks they can make decisions in a closet and not have consequences; that is a problem. Eric Cantor was defeated by an almost unknown tea party person named David Brat, is that something that we should be concerned with? Cantor is a House member, and has been for many years, yet the good state of Virginia has voted him out of office. Is there another tea party movement occurring?

You know, I don’t know, but one thing I do know is that we the people are tired of being led by people who only have their own interests in mind. This means being reelected and staying in power. I do think Eric Cantor is a class act, and did try to serve his state well, but I think all incumbents should pay attention to what just happened. If you are a leader who thinks you can do business as usual, which means lining your own pockets with money, power, or prestige, then you will be voted out.

I think Dana Milbank made some good points today in discussing leaders and their continual love for groupthink. Groupthink is a phenomenon that was brought to our attention by Irving Janus. He wanted to know why the smartest people in our country could have made the very stupid decision of using Cuban exiles to invade Cuba. It was a horrible disaster. The invasion was launched from Guatemala on April 17, 1961, but Brigade 2506 was defeated within two days.

By definition, groupthink is “a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people, in which the desire for harmony or conformity in results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.” This is a simplistic definition, but it illustrates how everyone on Kennedy’s cabinet was waiting for someone else to point out the weakness of the Bay of Pigs plan. There was not sufficient debate around the event.

If we knew all the inner workings of each Presidential administration, before and after Kennedy, I am sure there would be examples of this phenomenon. Milbank reminds us of the Bush administration example associated with Iraq, “which distracted the military from the more important war in Afghanistan and unnecessarily prolonged the conflict.” And there several more with the Bush reign.

However, his main point involves President Obama and the Bowe Bergdahl event. The words he uses are “the President feels strongly about this.” Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security advisor stated, “There was not dissent on moving forward with this plan.” I cannot believe that the decision-makers did not question whether Bergdahl had defected or not. We are told the decision was unanimous. This concerns me, that decisions are unanimous, without dissension.

Milbank makes a very good point when he states, “I don’t doubt these accounts about Obama’s agreeable advisors. Such affirmations of Obama’s instincts are what has worried me about the way Obama has structured his administration in his second term: By surrounding himself with longtime loyalists in the White House and on his national security team, he has left himself with advisors lacking either the stature or the confidence to tell him he is wrong.” If this is true then this is a problem.

The word Milbank uses to describe these people is acolyte. The word means someone who follows and admires a leader. I would probably describe them as sycophants, or as people “who act obsequiously toward someone important to gain advantage.” These are people who do not want to sacrifice their position and therefore will tell the king how great his new cloths are.

Lets compare Obama to another famous person from Illinois. Who were the individuals who made up his cabinet? Three of the members of his cabinet Edward Bates, Salmon Chase, and William Seward were very complicated and difficult men. They had run against Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 election. However, in order to deal with the splitting of our nation Lincoln recognized he needed people who would tell him the truth.

Lincoln was an excellent example of leadership at its best. I would venture to guess that groupthink was not an issue at cabinet meetings during Lincoln’s administration, however I could be wrong. But, I think our modern leaders, both in business and politics, need to look at the past, because if they don’t they are destined to repeat it. We need to learn from Lincoln, if not then we will see many more examples of groupthink.

And that is my thought for the day!

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2 thoughts on “Some Things Never Change

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