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Thursday, February 14, 2013

Eric Cantor Needs a Leadership Camp

United States Congressmen and Women are two year wonders.  Few people can remember a Congressman's name, even when they're holding office.  Once they leave office, they're as memorable as invisible ink.

Which is exactly why Congressman Eric Cantor, Republican of Virginia, needs to attend leadership camp.  As of now, Cantor's name generates negative political feelings for two reasons: (a) he's a Congressman participating in a governing organization with a 13 percent public approval rating, and (b) he's a wanna-be political leader who hasn't shown any positive leadership attributes. Yet, he sure knows how to stir up political noise.  Cantor knows how to whine about cutting the deficit, but shows no freshness about how his ideas are any better than failed past policies that simply drive down the standard of living for middle class Americans.  Cutting Medicare, for example, impacts on the quality of medical care for all Americans, reduces the number of jobs in health related industries and reneges on a promise to Social Security beneficiaries who expect their benefits when they reach 65 years of age.  Nevertheless, Cantor rails on how Medicare must be included in any deficit reducing initiative along with a menu of other progressive programs to support middle class and poor Americans. These deficit obsessions are not helping his political career. 

In the recently aired PBS Frontline documentary, "Cliffhanger", Congressman Cantor is portrayed as one of three young guns who can't seem to focus on a political target without shooting themselves in their feet.  Cantor, along with Congressman Paul Ryan and Congressman Kevin McCarthy, have made it their political obsession to undermine all progressive politics.  In so doing, they entirely miss the point on how to be leaders.  Rather than be confrontational and obstructionists, they should learn how to facilitate and bargain.  In learning how to be political leaders, rather than opportunists, who simply cause problems, Cantor and his aggressive colleagues should cloister themselves in a camp where they can study how to be constructive statesmen.

Following are my three leadership goals for Congressman Cantor and his ambitious colleagues:

1.  Leadership by example is always preferable to a display of aggressive ambition.  In other words, Congressman Cantor should call for cuts to his own salary and benefits before obsessing about entitlements that negatively impact on other people's quality of life.  

2.  Leadership by consensus is always preferable to forcing your own opinion on others.  In other words, Congressman Cantor should support House Speaker John Boehner rather than appear as though he wants to take him out to the wood shed if, in his opinion, he thinks the Leader misbehaves.  Congressman Cantor will never become Speaker of the House of Representatives if he continues to look as though he wants his political boss's job.

3.  Leadership with popular support carries a lot of clout, especially when circumstances or political winds take a proverbial sea turn.  Although Congressman Cantor was re-elected by his 7th district Virginia voters in 2012, a majority of Americans don't find him or his policies appealing.  Otherwise, the House of Representatives would have gained, rather than lost, seats in the 2012 election and President Obama would have been held to one term as Leader of the Free World.

If I were a counselor in the Eric Cantor leadership camp, I'd run movies about the lives of Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Mother Theresa, Abraham Lincoln, Rev. Billy Graham, Hillary Clinton and Mahatma Gandhi, to name a few charismatic people, who will be held up as role models. Congressman Cantor would "pass" leadership camp if he identifies how each of them led by example, consensus and with popular support, especially during times of personal and political crises.

Meanwhile, Frontline's harsh documentary has cast a shadow on Congressman Cantor's future because he willingly allowed his ambition be aggressively characterized as one of three "young guns".  Not good karma for a man obsessed with having his own political way, regardless of how his opinions impacts others.  "Young gun" is too ambitious and harsh.  He'd have been better characterized as a "young change broker" (the gun image is increasingly unpopular).

But, leadership camp may not be worth the time and money. After all, will we remember Congressman Cantor's name when he's no longer in politics?  "For everything there is a season", is a poetic Old Testament Ecclesiastes reading. Surely, Congressman Cantor should take the time to read it.

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