The Universal Notebook: Failures of leadership

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Opinions differ on whether President Obama has shown effective leadership when it comes to Syria, some believing he was right to allow Congress to weigh in on military intervention, others faulting him for not taking decisive action on his own.

Frankly, I think Syria is beside the point. The failure of Obama to lead is far more egregious when it comes to domestic affairs.

Sequestration, the meat-axe approach to budget cutting enacted because Congress failed to act, is a major failure of leadership on the part of both the president and the Congress. People all over America are suffering and being denied vital services, not because there is no money to pay for these services, but because Obama stupidly thought the threat of automatic, across-the-board sequestration cuts would force Congress’ hand.

But Congress sat on its hands, largely because Tea Party Republicans have rendered the United States all but ungovernable through their callous disregard for the general welfare (which was a founding principle of this country) in their blind rage to bring down Obamacare.

A pox on all their houses.

There is probably plenty of blame to go around for the partisan gridlock in Washington (which I realize has become a cliche even as I type it), but the obstacles to problem-solving and compromise are not so much Republican vs. Democrat as they are Tea Party GOP vs. Establishment GOP.

In his new book “Dangerous Convictions: What’s Really Wrong with the U.S. Congress,” former Maine Democratic Congressman Tom Allen writes, “The principal reason for our polarization is the increasing incompatibility of Democratic and Republican ideas about individualism and community. The inability to compromise is primarily driven by the growing ideological rigidity of Republicans, which has become hostile to almost any form of government action across a wide range of disparate subjects.”

And in her new book “Fighting for Common Ground: How We Can Fix the Stalemate in Congress,” former Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe observes, “Outstanding colleagues have had their distinguished careers derailed by a tightly organized subgroup within the main Republican Party that is more interested in taking down individuals with whom they don’t agree than in electing representatives who will find bipartisan legislative solutions to America’s problems.”

One of Snowe’s not so radical ideas for getting Congress to act in the best interests of the American people is to “permanently mandate that if Congress fails to pass a budget, or appropriations bills are not completed, its members don’t get paid – simple as that.”

Senator, I’d stop paying those clowns immediately, and garnish a few of the president’s paychecks for good measure.

Here in Maine we are fortunate that we have not yet developed the ideological paralysis that prevents government from serving the people, but we are getting ever closer. The biggest failures of leadership in Maine have been Gov. Paul LePage’s personal failings – his emotional immaturity, anger management issues, bellicose nature and big mouth. Through his words and actions, LePage has damaged the Maine brand, a reputation once distinguished by reason, moderation and civility.

LePage’s greatest failing as a leader, however, is simply that he belongs to that new breed of Tea Party politician who only feels obliged to represent the narrow point of view of the people who voted for him, not the best interests of the electorate as a whole.

In November 2014, the majority of Maine voters will no doubt vote to get rid of LePage, but because Democratic challenger Rep. Mike Michaud and independent challenger Eliot Cutler will split the 66 percent of the vote remaining after LePage’s hardcore 34 percent vote, there is a disturbing possibility that Maine may have to suffer through another four years of the insufferable LePage.

Ironically, partisan gridlock prompts Cutler to run as an independent, but his candidacy could end up reinforcing that gridlock if it means LePage wins re-election.

At this point, I could vote for either Michaud or Cutler, but I’d be happier if it were not a three-way race. My cat could beat LePage in a head-to-head election.

“Lead, follow or get out of the way” goes the political formula often attributed (erroneously) to propagandist Thomas Paine. Well, folks, we can only hope that a year from now, either Michaud or Cutler will be selfless enough to lead by getting out of the way.

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Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Yarmouth. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.