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Accounting 101

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I've been knee-deep in developing a process and instrument for evaluating the performance of a president. It's harder than it looks, and it's not even President Obama of whom I speak. The task has, however, focused me on issues of authentic leadership as well as what is required of those of us nominally being led. Followers ALSO must lead.

First, let me be clear. President Obama's grasp of politics as fundamentally "the art of the possible" impresses me deeply. Simultaneously and in like measure, I am dismayed by incessant carping that what he's been able to accomplish (at lightspeed no less) is not exactly what some of us had in mind.

What's with the apparent expectation that we can now just leave it all to Obama to create the world we want, just as we want it? He's been absolutely clear -- if he's going to be able to do what needs doing, or even close, he must have grassroots support. It's as if we've patted ourselves on the back that Obama was elected and now we can relax. No!

After suffering the egregious consequences of an abusive "unitary" presidency, do we still cling to the appalling fantasy that the executive office is just a disguise for some kind of magic wand? Why are we demanding Obama impose the "correct" top-down solutions for what we harbor as our pet projects or peeves? What makes us think that WE have done enough? This is worse than magical thinking, it's an abdication to blind ideology. It's also painfully akin to the doctrinaire and rabid reactionaries who will never -- let me repeat, NEVER -- willingly go away.

At long, long last, we have a chief executive who grasps and forwards the essence of a self-governing people, the sovereign people who entrust the instruments of government to those serving in the executive and legislative branches.

Obama has explicitly told us he MUST have pressure from United States' people -- sovereigns that we are -- if we are going to create the future for which he has given us a vision, and the energy that comes with renewed hope.

Put that another way. He can't get Congress to pass the legislation we need if we haven't made it clear that we will accept no less than genuine redirection of this nation's path and will punish politicians who obstruct it happening. Read: Republicans.

We spent half a century in the United States poisoned by ideology that locked us into us v them, capitalism v. communism, good v. bad. Well, look again. The Cold War ended when mammoth military expenditures bankrupted the Soviet Union and took communism's ideology with it. Did U.S. some damage, too. The slings and arrows once certain to greet any critique of rapacious unbridled capitalism are now pointed at the correct source: rapacious, unbridled capitalism. If these mega-lessons in the bankruptcy of political ideology are insufficient to make the point, look at what human greed and shortsightedness have created, looming threats to life on earth.

So here's what I am re-learning in my own endeavor to enhance accountability, institutionalize transparency, and promote loving-kindness in one organization.

Trust. It's time to rebuild it at every level and in every context in which we, ourselves, exercise authority. And just to make sure we're not fooling ourselves, it's worth repeating the Russian proverb "Trust, and Verify". Hence, the evaluation process and instrument with which I began.

Restoring trust -- at every level -- will require us to stop being so bloody timid in exercising our responsibilities. Evaluating our own performance -- as well as that of others -- is guaranteed to be uncomfortable. Authoritarians and autocrats will take no more kindly to it than to a more just reality that awaits our creation. Rebuilding trust will be hard. It's also essential.

Fortunately, President Obama's leadership-by-example is grounded in bottom-up thinking and experience. (I will never forget or forgive the ugly Republican sneers of Guliani-Palin, profaning America's communities and those willing to organize them.) Obama gives every indication of genuinely understanding the work that "We, The People" entails. He clearly is one with those of us who understand that it will take dramatic changes to turn this ship of state away from a daunting array of looming (alas, all too metaphorically speaking) icebergs.

It is incumbent upon each of us, all of us, to evaluate the effectiveness of our own individual performances. Likewise, we must evaluate and hold accountable the leaders and members of every institution of which we are a part: religious, political, social, cultural, educational, economic and corporate, along with all those overlapping and interstitial places. After all, "the art of the possible" invites the new world of possibilities we say we want. It awaits us ALL doing the work required to get there.

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