Shouldn't true leadership be defined by someone coming forward and simply saying, "I messed up. I should have seen this coming. I should have done something to help avert the untold pain this crisis is visiting upon our businesses, our retirees, our families and the very health of those who have been devastated financially by the obvious warning signs I ignored or the steps I failed to take."
When I worked for former Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), several times a day I would walk past a handwritten note by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. A note that said it all about leadership and responsibility. Just before D-Day and the Normandy invasion, Eisenhower drafted the brief note should the landings fail. As D-Day was a success, the remarks were never delivered.
Here are the words of a leader who would have been willing to take the blame—deserved or not:
"Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone."
I submit that tens of millions of Americans are desperate for that kind of selfless leadership. Where is that person? Surely the rock under which most of these "leaders" have crawled must be about ready to melt from the collective body heat of those shaking and hiding under its cover. Can't one of them step out into the sunshine, take a deep breath and say: "For the good of the nation, someone has to be accountable. That list starts with me."
Republicans blame Democrats. Democrats blame Republicans. Hedge fund managers blame bankers. Bankers blame their own customers. Chief executive officers blame unions. Everybody blames Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Yeah, yeah. We get it. While clearly someone should be on the hook for a crisis that has wiped out the future security for millions of us, it's not you. You—our political or business leaders—did absolutely nothing wrong.
I would further submit that the most insecure and thin-skinned people in business tend to be economists, weather forecasters and political pundits. When they think they've nailed a particular prediction, they will make sure they trumpet the news from the highest mountain. When they are wrong, they crank up the excuse machine and blame everyone but themselves for their blunders.
Today, we are being bombarded with diametrically opposed "solutions" from these very economists, politicians, CEOs and other alleged "experts." On top of that, President-elect Barack Obama seems to be bringing Team Rubin (former advisers to Robert Rubin when he was the secretary of the Treasury for President Bill Clinton) back into the fold to deal with a crisis that some believe they helped create. So as not to heap undue blame on these Rubin protégés, we just as strongly need to ask where were the Bush teams of Paul O'Neill, John Snow and Henry Paulson when our national piggy bank was being smashed and looted?
Obviously, there are tens or hundreds of people at fault for all of this. Unfortunately, there is not a Gen. Eisenhower among the bunch.
Douglas MacKinnon was press secretary to former Sen. Bob Dole and served in the White House and the Pentagon.