Lee Iacocca offers
insights in new book
June 06, 2007
"We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, 'Stay the course.' Stay the course? You've got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic."
When I first read these words from Lee Iacocca in his book 'Where Have All The Leaders Gone?' I wanted to stand up and cheer, for here at last somebody was saying what I have felt for some time. Like Iacocca I, too. "hardly recognize this country anymore."
Here at last, I thought, was somebody willing to speak his mind and tell us "I've had enough," and that we couldn't call ourselves patriots if we didn't feel a sense of outrage at the deplorable state of our union.
"The President of the United States is given a free pass to ignore the Constitution, tap our phones, and lead us to war on a pack of lies. Congress responds to record deficits by passing a huge tax cut for the wealthy…(and) the most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs…and the press is waving pon-poms instead of asking hard questions. That's not the promise of America my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for. I've had enough. How about you?"
At the age of eighty-two Iacocca's friends tell him to calm down and leave the rage to the young people. "I'd love to," he says, "as soon as I can pry them away from the iPods for five seconds and get them to pay attention.
"Where," he asks, "are the voices of the leaders who can inspire us to action and make us stand taller?"
Suggesting that it is "an intellectually lazy argument," to place the blame for our situation on right-wing Republicans or liberal Democrats, Iacocca asks what "has happened to the strong and resolute party of Lincoln? What happened to the courageous, populist party of FDR and Truman?"
The former Chrysler CEO then lays out nine obvious qualities every true leader should have as a partial answer to his rhetorical question as to where have all the leaders gone, giving us a benchmark of sorts to measure our presidential candidates next year.
"People and priorities. It is that simple," he says. If we heed the lessons of history, dare to speak out and vote we might well be on our way to bringing the country back on course.
"It is plain hypocrisy for us to hold up our system of government as the best there is, yet fail to practice the most fundamental action of a free people-voting," Iacocca writes. "With only 45% of the eligible voters casting their ballots in the last presidential election is it any wonder that 98% of all incumbents are reelected?" And that, Iacocca says, "is a stacked deck guaranteed to insure the status quo."
People and priorities. That's what it all comes down to.
Iacocca would like to give Congress a year off, send them to a quiet place, not pass any legislation, and instead evaluate what they have done in the past three years and find out what is working and pulling the plug on any programs which are not. A radical proposal, sure, but it's time to look out of the box. Consider for example the money we have spent on Iraq. With the half trillion dollars or so we have spent there we could have hired eight million school teachers, given free health care to everyone for a year or built three million affordable housing units.
"In my forty-eight years in the auto industry…I've always said the same thing: Here is what management is about: Pick good people and set the right priorities…this advice applies whether you're running a company or a country," Iacocca writes.
With the Constitution as our national blueprint American democracy can be a wonderful thing but we have to "stay alert and keep ourselves informed. Democracy isn't a spectator sport," he aptly evaluates.
"Our obligation," Iacocca concludes, is to "look beyond appearances and sound bites and do the hard work of choosing a leader...Mark your calendar for November 11, 2008 and plan to vote. After all we didn't elect 'the gang in Congress' to…do nothing and remain silent while our democracy is being hijacked and our greatness replaced with mediocrity."
Some solid advice I would say.