Association for the Seriously Stupid’s Annual Awards: The ASS Awards for
Leading From Behind
Roll out the red carpet. It is once again
time for the annual awards for Leading from Behind given by the Association for
the Seriously Stupid. The so-called ASS awards for rear guard leadership have
been in effect since President Obama became the first recipient for his
“leading from behind” during the Euro-American bloc’s assault on Libya
following the overthrow of Colonel Quadaffi. America has been leading from
behind ever since by withdrawing from Iraq and soon Afghanistan leaving both
countries in worse shape than when we got there; in Syria where the killing
rages on despite Mr. Obama’s intermittent threat of the use of force which
dissipated once he decided to sit down and lead from his behind by hiding
behind Congress; and now we can add the Ukraine to the areas of the world where
America is leading from behind by rattling light sabers instead of real ones.
If Mr. Putin could laugh at us he would, but his face would crack.
I guess no one gets the joke of the
oxymoron that is “leading from behind” like jumbo shrimp and family vacation.
America has consciously decided that it no
longer wishes to lead the world in fighting totalitarianism, terrorism, nuclear
proliferation, evil in general and pure stupidity which it used to oppose
before it became a major contributor to the ASS. If you are going to be a major
contributor to ASS, is there any doubt that you will lead from your behind?
This has all came to me because of a very
unique experience I had last week in Manhattan—New York, not Kansas.
I was privileged to see Bryan Cranston on
Broadway in “All the Way.” In this performance, which is very likely to win him
a Tony Award, Cranston, of Breaking Bad fame, plays President Lyndon B.
Johnson. The play starts on November 22, 1963 with Johnson asleep on Air Force
One flying back to Washington with the body of the slain President Kennedy. It
traces Johnson’s efforts to continue the work of the Kennedy Administration to
pass Civil Rights legislation. As a southern Democrat and a master of the US
Senate where he had been majority leader, he was in a much better position than
the now dead Kennedy to get this legislation through Congress. Along with the
LBJ character are the ghosts of J. Edgar Hoover, Richard Russell, Everett
Dirksen and most critically the full spectrum of the black leadership of 1964 from
Roy Wilkins to Stokely Charmichael with Martin Luther King trying desperately
to find a middle ground between militarism and Uncle Tomism to partner with the
new president to get both civil rights and voting rights legislation passed
without having to take to the streets.
The play only covers the year between the
assassination and the election of LBJ in 1964 but within this brief span of
time the entire civil rights battle, including the murder of the three freedom
riders in Mississippi takes place as does the Gulf of Tonkin incident that led
to the major American entry into Viet Nam. None of this was the focus of the
LBJ and Cranston, who resembles Johnson
minimally but after 15 minutes seems to BE LBJ, cajoles, manipulates, sweet talks,
bullies, womanizes and drinks his way through the quagmire that is the
Washington of 1964 and the very divided United States on the issue of race and civil
rights. He is the master. He is THE LEADER. And it most certainly was not from his
At intermission, I jumped to my feet
clapping wildly and turned to Genie saying, “now that’s what I am talking
about. We could use a little more of that.”
The “that” to which I referred was
leadership. Cranston so captured the well over 6 foot LBJ, that the actor himself,
nowhere near that tall, appears to shrink at the curtain call. I have been very
fortunate to see Richard Kiley in Man of La Mancha, Robert Preston in The Music
Man, Raul Julia in The Kiss of the Spider Woman and even Joseph Cotton, Jackie Gleason
and Burt Lahr on the Broadway stage. This performance may be the best I have
ever seen. It was incredible. If you can get to NYC and see it, do so.
For reasons that elude me, everywhere I
look any more, I see a leadership vacuum whether in our national life (Obama,
the Congress, Scalia?), our religious life (The Catholic Church, my recent blog
on J Street’s exclusion from a major Jewish leadership group), or even business
(all those misdeeds on Wall Street and only one banker in jail). Even academic
medicine is rife with leaders in it for themselves who have forgotten the
Hippocratic Oath and common sense when it comes to conflict of interest.
Saturday’s Houston Chronicle at http://www.houstonchronicle.com/news/houston-texas/houston/article/Doctors-scrutinized-for-potential-conflicts-of-5468773.php)
my letter in response published on May 13: http://www.chron.com/default/article/Tuesday-letters-Metro-NFL-draft-Mama-Ninfa-5472149.php)
I am surely not holding up LBJ as a paragon
of virtue. He was not. He also badly miscalculated the cost of his continuously
escalating investment in Viet Nam. But for one brief shining moment, a man of the
segregated south rose above his history to put into place laws that were
attempting to guarantee basic freedoms to all Americans. And he did so knowing
his leadership on this issue would cost his party the south for generations to
come. He did it because it was right. That is called leadership.
Even retrospectively and posthumously, LBJ would
never qualify for an ASS award. Where are the LBJs of today? Certainly not in
evidence in the Texas Medical Center or Capitol Hill or Wall Street.
But as an old man at the end of his career in
academics, I can assure you I have seen it in our business. One need go no
further than the first two presidents of MD Anderson to see leadership in
action. Not perfection. Leadership.
I am not asking for perfection for no human has
achieved it yet. But how about a semblance of being in it for someone beside
yourself for even 15 minutes? How about just that much?