Gary Shapiro

Potential visitors do not come to the United States because of burdensome visa requirements, and our travel industry has stagnated while the rest of the world’s has gone up 38 percent in the last 10 years.

The Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies have proposed and issued scores of new rules and proposals that most businesses have trouble simply tracking, much less observing.

The White House seems to have avoided getting involved with any of these missteps. The president, especially in 2011, seems more focused on dividing the nation and running for re-election rather than resolving any of these issues. The president did exercise leadership by creating a bipartisan deficit commission, but then he ignored its findings, leading to the summer’s government shutdown crisis.

Amazingly, Congress has been worse. The Democrat-controlled Senate is where political nominations and budget proposals go to die. The Senate rejected the president’s budget but did not produce one of its own. Every proposal is filibustered by someone, and few good ideas come from what was once the world’s most deliberative body.

While by objective measures the House has improved under the Republican majority leadership (no more 2,000-page bills; all members can offer amendments to legislation; sufficient time is now given to read legislation rather than requiring members to read it after they vote on it; all Committees engage in meaningful debate), the partisan rhetoric and squabbling has not ended, and the anti-tax pledging Republicans have hamstrung negotiations on critical issues.

Indeed, Congress is so impotent that it can’t even cut mail delivery one day a week despite billions in losses at the U.S. Postal Service due to the rise of the Internet. No wonder only 15 percent of Americans think Congress is doing a good job.

If we’re going to remedy the lack of leadership, we need to redefine our understanding of what makes a good president or member of Congress. We have to stop electing people based on the feel-good easy solutions they propose, and start looking for candidates who are committed to talking about the national sacrifice that will be required – across the board – to get us back on top.

My criterion for president is a leader who will unite us around a common cause, such as implementing an innovation-based strategy preserving our children’s future. President Obama’s proposals – and his would-be Republican opponents’ debates – need to get past boilerplate rhetoric and talk details on what they will actually do to restore America.

I, for one, want a leader who will talk about triage, priorities and strategy. A leader should have real experience and know the budget process, but also be honest and empathetic to the fact that every cut will hurt some Americans.

As to Congress, I defer to a group I am affiliated with, No Labels, which last week offered a series of practical rule changes that would force Congress to do a better job. Among them: tying Congressional pay to a balanced budget, requiring up or down votes on all nominees within 60 days of nomination, and a regular question period for the president and cabinet secretaries (like the British). Even simple measures like changing the seating so the parties sit together will allow real human interaction that could overcome the warring parties.

This is the season of hope. But hope alone won’t save us. If we don’t change course and try something different our kids will blame us for screwing up their future. And they will be right.

Gary Shapiro

Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the U.S. trade association representing some 2,000 consumer electronics companies.