In a classic essay on the decline and collapse of the Roman Empire, British classicist Gilbert Murray contends that Romans suffered from a "failure of nerve." With barbarian hordes amassing on their borders, Rome needed to martial their superior army to respond to imminent threats with strength and resolve. But with citizens content in their often lavish and seemingly secure lifestyles, Rome failed to muster a proper defense. The result: Romans lost both their security and their freedom.
Failure of nerve is a common ailment for leaders. Defined as choosing the status quo to avoid a decision which might produce a positive change in course, a failure of nerve is all too often the cause for failure in international affairs, domestic politics and business.
For example, last week I spoke with a CEO friend currently facing a crucial strategic decision. His company of over 10,000 employees is at a technological crossroads—and market forces are undercutting current strategy.
“Do I invest billions of dollars in a new strategy where the outcome is uncertain, or do I maintain the course, hoping things will work out, and leave the problem to the next CEO, who will be coming along anyway in about three years?” my friend asked.
In 2006, America has the same choice facing my CEO friend and that once faced Rome: take bold action in pursuit of long-term success, or simply kick the can down the road for someone else to worry about. Consider just a few of the key priorities we face in the next six months: stabilizing Iraq, confronting Iran, securing our borders, reducing our dependence on foreign oil, reforming entitlements – add ‘em up and it’s easy to see how our leaders can experience a failure of nerve.
But now is not the time for wavering. Republican leadership cannot afford to play it safe leading up to midterm elections. Instead, the GOP must step forward with a bold and confident agenda that sparks the imagination of the American people. They must show they can govern! If they do not, they will lose both the mid-term elections and the trust of the American people.
Doug Wilson is the the co-author, with Edwin Feulner, of Getting America Right: The True Conservative Values Our Nation Needs Today.
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