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The Leading Edge – Deja Pu – Obama, Clinton and O.J. Simpson

        "This Presidential campaign is starting to be a circus," my friend proclaimed to me.             Talk about flashbacks.  I immediately thought of the O.J.

        “This
Presidential campaign is starting to be a circus,” my friend proclaimed to me.

            Talk about
flashbacks.  I immediately thought of the
O.J. Simpson criminal trial in which I served as an advisor to the
prosecution.  I remember what started out
as the chance to showcase to the world how justice could be served by the
sequential and orderly presentation of indisputable evidence turned by mid-trial
into anything but that.  Somewhere along
the way justice and rationality got lost in the daily salvos that Marcia Clark
et al and Johnnie Cochran and friends launched at each other.  Just when it looked like one side was on the
ropes, they bounced back in a way that made you think, “Well maybe what they just
said was possible.”

            Back and
forth and then back and forth again.  By
the time the trial was over, you just wanted it to be over.  Despite the ordeal of watching it, Los Angeles and much of the country, if not
the world, stood transfixed reading newspapers and starting at televisions like people rubbernecking at
the side of multi-vehicle car crash.  You
wanted to look away, but couldn’t. By the end, justice had long been replaced
by just wondering who was going to win and who was going to lose.

            Fast
forward to Election 2008.  Hillary Clinton
as the annoying, aggravating, unrelenting, “nails on a chalkboard” and oblivious-to-her-substance-obliterating-style Marcia Clark.  Barack
Obama as the mellifluous, velvet toned, easy to listen to but occasionally gaff laden and factually (or at
least experience) insubstantial Johnnie Cochran. 

            Are we
witnessing or at least experiencing a similar phenomena?  If so, what was the lesson that O.J. taught
us and the one the current campaign is trying to teach us?  I would posit it is that when you are in thrall
to your emotions, you need to resist with all your strength throwing logic and
common sense under the bus, where they become casualties.

            To carry
the analogy one step further, what is at risk in Election 2008? What
corresponds to the desire for justice, following Rodney King, that was in short
supply in 1994-97 that fell completely through the cracks? The answer is
leadership.  As we head towards November,
2008 there is a widespread perception that America is either being misled or
at the very least is lacking leadership. 
If one of the measures of effective leadership is how committed
the
followers are and you match that against the current approval of
President Bush (72 % disapproval for 4/2-4/6/08), you get a sense of
just how much
leadership is wanting.

            Clark
and Cochran may have been as much victims and extensions as they were causes of the
public’s emotional state of mind during the mid- 1990’s. And perhaps it’s just as likely
that Clinton and Obama are extensions or an expression of the current American
psyche.  Whatever the truth, the American psyche is every day
looking to leadership to solve the problems of a war without end, the
upside down economy, health care reform, education to enable America to
compete globally, etc. and unfortunately for which there are no
simple, easy answers (something that the public doesn’t take too
kindly).

            If
hindsight is 20:20 and the lesson from the Simpson trial was to keep our eye on
the prize of justice and to forcibly push aside anything that would detract
from it, the lesson for Obama, Clinton and
McCain is to keep their eye on the leadership that this country sorely
needs and is desperate for.

            The
foundation of that leadership rest on three key abilities. First, the ability
to see and articulate a clear, compelling and convincing vision that all of
this country will want to be a part of. 
Second, the ability to identify and recruit the talent to turn that
vision into a reality. Third, the ability to engage that talent so they will do
it.

            The
greatest problem for all three candidates is the lack of that front end
vision.  In its place is an opportunity
for each of them to reach the pinnacle of their political careers.  But an opportunity for each of them
professionally does not a vision for all of us to embrace make.  In the 1930’s we had the New Deal; in the
1940’s we had defeating he evil Nazis; in the 1950’s it was living the American
dream after the war and being safe through the Cold War; in the 1960’s it was
putting a man on the moon and after that it becomes a little iffy and to this
day, that lack of vision is something we all ache for.  After 9/11 the reaction to retaliate and
defend our country against terrorism was temporarily a shared vision, but the
war has continued without a clear end in sight or even a clear notion that Iraq was the
enemy we should be fighting.

            I don’t
know what that vision would be, I just know that our next President needs to
know.  

(c) 2008 Mark Goulston 

About the author

Mark Goulston, M.D. is the Co-Fonder of Heartfelt Leadership a global community whose Mission of Daring to Care it dedicated to identifying, celebrating, developing and supporting heartfelt leaders who are as committed to making a difference as they are to making a profit.

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