The Expectations Gap: From
11/22 to 9/11

By

Leonard Zwelling

         As we approach the final run to Election Day and as we
remember 15 years ago, we might stop for a second a consider what is so
troubling the American psyche that no matter what happens on November 8 we will
likely have a plurality Presidential winner and more people upset with the
result than ever before. Why?

         I think Americans are deeply disappointed with the way
things have worked out.

         We Baby Boomers were born of high expectations. Our parents
had participated in the greatest generation and had freed the world of
totalitarianism and Fascism. America was at its zenith. Anything seemed
possible. Then we elected a young President who asked us to serve the country
yet again, but who seemed to promise unlimited possibility—he raised
expectations and though he did not live to see them fulfilled, we did indeed
walk on the moon. Throughout the 1960s, despite the Kennedy and other
assassinations, the country still roared with high expectations.

         If that day in Dallas didn’t start to whittle away at the
high expectations, surely Vietnam and those other assassinations didn’t help.

         Watergate finally ended the era of high expectations and the
country was shaken as never since Pearl Harbor. The President really was a
crook. Then we had a President that LOWERED expectations as well as thermostats
as the country seemed to be in the grip of foreign powers that controlled our
oil supply and was unwilling or unable to do much about it besides line up for
gas.

         No worries, Mr. Reagan brought America back until he got
shot and then got caught trading arms for hostages and Marines were killed in
the Middle East and once again America seemed to be falling short of its own
expectations as well as the promises made by our leadership.

         Bush then Clinton and then Bush again and then, 9/11. The
government couldn’t even keep us safe let alone supplied with fuel. What
happened to the America that had saved the world and why had the performance
fallen so short of the expectations?

         Now we know, no matter which of the two major candidates
wins the Presidency, it is likely that the country will lose. The Middle East
is still a basket case despite two wars to improve things. Russia is on the
march taking over territory that had once been free of a dictator that one of
the Presidential candidates actually compliments. What have we come to?

         Closer to home, MD Anderson has been led sequentially by
leaders who got into hot water of their own making. Whether Enron or ImClone or
Aveo, academic medicine needs to steer clear of entanglements with the private
business sector if it is to maintain the expectations that it is the final
arbiter of truth to be used for the good of mankind. And don’t give me the
nonsense about no margin no mission. MD Anderson has entered the world of high
finance and cashed in, but at what cost?

         It should come as no surprise that Americans, Texans and MD
Anderson faculty and staff believe that their expectations of those who lead
them have not been met. What is most troubling is that this is likely to
continue into the future. After all, if racial injustice needs to be brought to
our attention by an NFL quarterback after eight years of having our first Black
President, there really is a gap between reasonable expectations and
reality.   

Leonard Zwelling