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A CRISIS OF EXECUTIVE FAILURE by Ralph L. Lynn What the nation needs and what the people want may be vastly different. Perhaps what our nation needs just now is a presidential “blood, sweat, and tears” speech calculated to persuade us to grapple effectively with the flood of domestic problems which threatens to overwhelm us. But chief executives, so far as I am aware, have made such speeches only when a heavily armed external enemy is literally at the gates. Why do chief executives not make such speeches directed at domestic problems? One reason is that domestic ills are less clear to the total national consciousness than military threats from the outside. A military threat from abroad is a dramatic, clear and present danger to every citizen regardless of his personal situation. Moreover, the threat of war stifles most political grandstanding and most of the blatantly partisan appeals to selfish interests. Denouncing an external enemy is good politics but if the enemy is us, such denunciations are political suicide. It is also the case that suggested solutions to the most serious domestic problems are debated and delayed endlessly. Disaffected portions of the population are likely to be a minority although often a minority of millions. But the disaffected are likely also to be the poor who have no lobbyists. They are also likely to be so without hope that they do not even vote. If, in desperation, they resort to violence the majority will turn against them and their situation will be worse than before. Still another reason for executive dodging: Most Americans are optimists. Their patriotism is so shallow that they want only cheerleaders. Unlike Reagan, Bush is an unconvincing cheerleader. He also has enough intelligence to know that our problems are serious; but not enough integrity and courage to take the lead in solving them. Bush no doubt also remembers what happened to President Carter when he spoke, quite correctly, of a national malaise. Not too long ago, in Newsweek of November 4th, George Will, referring to only a snippet of our problems, still gives our situation its right name. “American now ranks just sixth among the world’s nations in per capita GNP, about where Argentina was at the turn of the century. Argentina sank; America is sinking. There is a word for all this: malaise.” It is also the case that a “blood, sweat and tears” speech would be a confession of failure. It would be safe for a politician to make such a speech only if he could place all the blame on “the other party.” Parenthetically, this is an argument against our silly habit of electing a president of one party and a congress of the other. Although I am an unabashed liberal Democrat, I would like to see a Republican President serving with a Republican Congress. The experience would be educational for both the Republican party and the public. Both would discover that only a continuation and refinement of the liberal trends of the past two generations meet national needs. All of these reasons for executive failure to face up to domestic problems seem to make some sense but perhaps the really persuasive reason for the vacuum at the top is that effective treatment of grave national problems would necessitate unselfish, constructive action from the upper social-economic brackets in our society. The wellto-do would have to help the submerged millions of our population who have little hope of sharing in the American dream. But, and sadly, it is nearly impossible to mobilize even our best people in such an unselfish, long-range project. But it is tragically easy as David Duke demonstrated last year to mobilize very nice people on the basis of hate and fear. We cannot expect President Bush to take the lead in solving our malaise. He seems to some observers to be the perennial preppy: He desperately wants to do the “right” thing to please his family and his circle of wealthy friends. He acts or rather reacts not on the basis of internally held principles but to pressures from his entourage and to national polls. Ralph Lynn is Professor Emeritus of History at Baylor University. BERNARD RAP OP 0 RT American Income Life Insurance Company Chairman of the Board and Executive Offices: P.O. Box 2608, Waco, Texas 76797, 817-772-3050 Chief Executive Officer THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11