Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Behavior is an indicator of leadership capacity

By Carol Gee

How can we make the best decisions about choosing the next President of the United States?What qualities of leadership should we look for? How can we tell what is true or not about the various candidates. One of the answers is to observe their behavior. Attributing motives to people is very risky, even with those we know personally and know the best.

Slogan vs. action -- TPMCafe blogger, "cscs," observed and commented on candidate behavior recently with his "Agents of Change?" post. The behavior he was observing was connected to who showed up for Monday's Senate debate on amending the FISA bill. I quote his conclusion that points up the incongruity between the rhetoric and the actions of Senators Clinton and Obama on the issue:

Both Obama and Clinton are vying for the "agent of change" title, but I don't think you can have it both ways. I don't think you can hope for the audacity of hope to change politics while at the same time practicing politics-as-usual.

And that's exactly what yesterday was -- a calculated, risk-averse decision to stay on the campaign trail, while Dodd spent 10 hours on the floor of the Senate yesterday, instead of hunting for votes.

The politics-as-usual thing to do was to stay in the horse race.

The politics-of-change thing to do would have been to come back to Washington to fight for something.

Saying one thing and doing the opposite -- "I oppose the concept of retroactive immunity" Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid announced in his statement. And yet he put up the Intelligence committee bill that promised it, instead of of the Judiciary Committee version omitting retroactive immunity. Many of us see Senator Reid as weak and ineffectual, but that is a risky assumption because we cannot know for sure what his motivation was in this case. But these kinds of behaviors reinforce that belief that he caves in too easily. Debate on the bill was set for Monday, Dec. 17 reported Jeralyn from TalkLeft. The post quotes Senator Reid's statement about his decision a few days earlier:

"I consulted extensively with Chairman Rockefeller and Chairman Leahy about the best way for the Senate to consider this subject. “I have determined that in this situation, it would be wrong of me to simply choose one committee’s bill over the other. I personally favor many of the additional protections included in the Judiciary Committee bill, and I oppose the concept of retroactive immunity in the Intelligence bill. But I cannot ignore the fact that the Intelligence bill was reported favorably by a vote of 13-2, with most Democrats on the committee supporting that approach.

. . . I expect that when we begin debate on the bill, there will be amendments to incorporate many of the Judiciary Committee provisions into the Intelligence Committee text.

.... There is one issue that cannot be resolved through informal negotiation. As some are aware, the Intelligence Committee’s bill provides the telephone companies with retroactive immunity from lawsuits filed by their customers for privacy violations. Many members, myself included, believe that such a grant of immunity is unwise. I expect there will be a full debate on this subject next week."

Campaign behaviors can predict electability -- Political consultant Peter Fenn, writing for Politico.com, seems to think this is true. His post asks, "Do Democrats have the backbone to win?" and illustrates with action verbs what that means behaviorally. To quote:

Right now, I think Democratic voters in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — and during the onslaught on Feb. 5 — had better take a good, hard look at which Democrat can best go toe-to-toe with the GOP choice for nine long months next year.

Who can take the punches and punch back?

Who can develop a solid message and stick to it?

Who can run a campaign that is disciplined and focused?

Who can go on the offensive and stay on the offensive?

My sense right now is that Clinton has an operation that can truly take on the Republicans and that Barack Obama may be tough enough, if not as experienced.

I am unsure of the others, though they all may be able to pull it together should they win the nomination.

What qualities of leadership should we look for that can be deduced by looking only at behavior? By reading the news with an eye to action verbs we get clues from the candidates themselves. The above paragraphs include a few ideas. For example, Senator Reid's hypocrisy regarding protecting our civil liberties seemed very evident to me. One of the things we like the very best in our leaders is that the behave authentically. We are attracted to someone who seems to be able to be "comfortable in their own skin." Also, there seemed to be differences in willingness to take risk between Clinton and Obama versus Dodd regarding the FISA debate. On the other hand, Peter Fenn seems to think that, so far, Clinton and Obama would run tougher campaigns against Republicans. Time will tell about that question.

How can we tell what is true or not about the various candidates. Look at the behavior. What do they do, rather than what do they say? We cannot ascertain the level of courage of heroes by attributing motives to them. But we can recognize courage when we see it. I recall the old saying, "Courage is not about being unafraid; it is about which direction you run."

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)


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