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Political Leadership Is More Than Just Talk

We are sadly lacking in political leadership as a nation, and last night's State of the Union message with its surrounding antics was no exception.

The only political leadership I saw displayed was the silent appearance of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Az) as she came to the floor of the House of Representatives to tender her resignation this morning. Giffords, who notified her constituents by video over the weekend, left her post with the same dignity she brought to it when she occupied it. Although she said nothing, her decision to step down said it all.

She knows she can't truly serve her constituents. She actually respects them. So she resigned. She will focus on her recovery, she says, and then she will come back. She didn't grandstand by making a big public announcement first; as an Arizonan, I learned about her impending resignation in an email that went to residents.

That is true leadership. Clearly, she's not a politician who values the position more than the people. She leads by example.

Contrast Giffords' performance with President Obama's State of the Union address and the circus that surrounded it. Lots of language, and little meaning.

Instead, every formal participant took the obvious set of facts—high unemployment, a slow-growing economy, and a continued real estate crisis —and laid his own partisan spin on it. By the end of the evening, the facts had disappeared into a morass of language that could have been generated by pollsters on either side using an algorithmic phrase generator.

First Mitt Romney issued a "pre-buttal," which accused Obama of "high unemployment and record home foreclosures.  Debt that’s too high and opportunities that are too few.  This is the real state of our union.  But you won’t hear stories like these in President Obama’s address tonight.  The unemployed don’t get invitations to sit with the First Lady."

(Never mind that 4 million jobs were lost in the six months BEFORE Obama took office, and that the housing crisis began in the Bush era, if not before.)

Then came Obama's speech : We will not go back to an economy weakened by outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits… It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts.

(Never mind that later in the speech he takes credit for bailing out the auto industry, which he said has created 160,000 jobs.)

The evening was wrapped by Mitch Daniels' formal rebuttal, which promised "As Republicans our first concern is for those waiting tonight to begin or resume the climb up life's ladder. We do not accept that ours will ever be a nation of haves and have nots; we must always be a nation of haves and soon to haves."

(Never mind that the Democrats also say they stand for the same equality of opportunity.)

While each party takes credit and lays blame for the same things in the same language, a silent woman who nearly died and can still walk and speak only with difficulty demonstrates the best way to show concern for voters: not by grandstanding, but by truly communicating. As they say in writing classes, "show, don't tell."

Gabrielle Giffords, unlike our economy or our verbose leaders, is truly "built to last."


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