Herb Paine: Going for the Gold in Politics

August 08, 2012

Competitive yet mutually respectful. Individuals in their own right but aligned for a common purpose. Each lifting the other up -- and consequently uplifting us all with a sense of pride and an understanding of what is possible.

These are the attributes that we have seen displayed by our Olympic champions. If only they were as rigorously applied in American politics!

What if we expected of politicians what we expect of Olympians! What if candidates and elected officials actually behaved like Olympians?

All for one, and one for all!

Wouldn’t that be something?

Because, without doubt, the challenges of our time require such elevated behavior: selflessness; a tenacious commitment to high-level performance; the will to collaborate on behalf of the team’s best interests; a determination to get the job done.

We don’t need Congressmen coming home for vacation when they have yet to complete action on significant legislation that affects the well-being and livelihood of their fellow citizens; when farmers are thirsting for relief in the midst of a ravaging drought; or when unemployment is eroding the middle class.

It is not ideology that will fix our child protection systems, our schools, and our infrastructure. It is not the suppression of the rights of others or the vilification of their personal choices that will turn around the American economy.

Rather, I think we will secure our future by becoming Olympian, by our ability to solve problems through pragmatism and collaboration, by recognizing our interconnectedness and interdependence as Team America, and by selecting leaders who demonstrate character rather than tolerating characters who pretend to leadership.

However, a change in the character and quality of political behavior is only half the story in what it may take to restore prosperity and balance to American life.

Let’s get real! As a nation, our politics and our systems are no longer structured to address the complexity of the issues we face. And the political campaigns of 2012 do nothing to instill confidence that much will change, whoever is elected –- or that we’ll be treated to serious discussion about viable solutions.

If the substance of their ads is any indication of the substance of their character and their intentions, the politicos and spinmeisters of both the left and the right can win their elections but they will lose our country. Political discourse needs instead to be about what appropriate roles government and the private sector as partners should play in achieving economic vitality and enabling the pursuit of happiness.

Getting there is what Olympic-level politics will need to be all about if we aspire to a golden future.

Herb Paine is a business strategy consultant, former candidate for Congress, and social critic.

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