America at a Crossroads

Published: August 5, 2011

By Jim Lichtman
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Two years ago I wrote a commentary that asked: how do we restore America’s Integrity?

Today, we’re not only challenged by an uncertain economy but uncertain leadership in Congress. Some representatives believe it is more important to hold to a pledge made to a special interest group rather than work for what is best for the country as a whole. Whether they realize it or not, these individuals are practicing the same win-at-any-cost attitude practiced by a group of Wall Street “wizards” and others responsible for much of the economic meltdown in 2008.

America’s staggering debt and deficit issues are serious, requiring thoughtful consideration by serious people rather than a group of representatives who are willing to do whatever it takes to win.

In 2009 I wrote, “Greed, corruption, dishonesty – these are just of few of the bullies that continue to confront us today.” However, we face a new bully on the block in the form of elected zealots who, based on recent actions, believe that it is better to let the ship go down than work toward compromise. This is not only wrongheaded, but in formidable times it’s disturbingly unethical.

In, The Words Lincoln Lived By, author Gene Griessman writes, “While Lincoln’s strength of character and principle were unshakeable, he was nonetheless a first-rate compromiser.

“Lincoln understood,” Griessman writes, “that compromise is necessary in everyday life. His experience as a lawyer in some five-thousand cases taught him that often half a loaf is better than no loaf at all…

“He also knew that compromise is essential in government. As a state legislator, Lincoln acquired the ability to deal with individuals who had widely different interests, motives and agendas. He came to the presidency as a compromise candidate. At the Republican convention, Lincoln was the first choice of only a few, but the second choice of many. He didn’t win the nomination until the supporters of the frontrunners faltered.

“As a wartime president, Lincoln worked out one compromise after another to hold the nation together until victory could be achieved. He helped forge an unlikely coalition of pro-Union slaveholders, abolitionists, conservatives, moderates, and radicals.”

“The spirit of concession and compromise – that spirit which has never failed us in past perils,” Lincoln wrote, “may be safely trusted for all the future.”

In 2009 I wrote, “On the brink of nuclear war a calm but resolute President Kennedy assured the nation that ‘The path we have chosen for the present is full of hazards, as all paths are; but it is the one most consistent with our character and courage…’ Facing a nationwide depression, Franklin Roosevelt gave us the strength that would assuage our deepest doubts when he declared that ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ ”

The high-volume rhetoric and turmoil brought about by some in Washington lack any consideration of character or courage and instead plays to the nation’s worst fears and doubts.

Both Kennedy and Roosevelt succeeded, in large part, because the country believed in them – trusted them to lead us out of the crisis.

Today, trust is hard to come by. A new CBS News/New York Times poll finds that “82 percent of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is doing its job – the highest disapproval rating since polling began in 1977.”

Today, we’re standing at a crossroads. And if we want to reclaim America’s integrity, it will require all of us to stand up and stand for the kind of change that requires both discipline and determination “…consistent with our character and courage.

Right now we need elected officials of the highest integrity to make the changes necessary for all rather than the few. It’s about changing a culture from doing “whatever it takes to win” to doing the right thing even when it costs more than any single individual wants to pay. That’s the nature of true leadership.

Lincoln understood and accepted the challenge of leadership in difficult times. In 1862, Lincoln cautioned Congress with words that remain relevant today: “Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.”

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