09/17/2010 03:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Business, Politics and an Election

With a handful of primaries now behind us and the November elections barreling toward us like a dry tsunami, I've been thinking about the challenging place we find ourselves in as a nation. There may be a movement that is bringing business people to elected office while sending old guard politicians to the lobbying bench. Increasingly, people whose names we know because of their political careers are being opposed or defeated by names previously seen in the Wall Street Journal or even at the town bake sale. As an advocate of sound business principles being a great help in solving many of our problems, I see the changes moving across the political landscape as a good thing.

Here in California, I'm finding this election cycle more interesting than any of the pro sports teams. Barbara Boxer versus Carly Fiorina and Jerry Brown battling Meg Whitman are not political contests that would have been predicted just a year ago. I do love it when career politicians and business people are spending money in a battle for the same piece of turf rather than simply cozying up over a warm contributions check. Also, the fact that these two private sector heavy hitters are women brings another fascinating dimension to the contests. This may be one of those times when California serves as the "canary in the coal mine" in relation to how our nation's election future rolls out.
In the recent round of election primaries, Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell threw a lightning bolt at the Republican Party establishment in Delaware by flattening their candidate choice, Mike Castle. In my home state of New York which hasn't lived up to it's slogan of "Empire State" in a long time, there was a big surprise in the Republican primary for the governor race. Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino is perhaps the most surprising winner in those primaries, as he defeated the Republican's preferred candidate Rick Lazio. It brings me a chuckle whenever I hear political party big-wigs say they're "looking forward to working with him." That really means if you look behind them carefully there is probably a shovel and a half dug grave with his name on the headstone. I'm enjoying seeing the boat being rocked and traditional political structures challenged because it really is time for substantial change. The fact that a greater number of experienced business people are rising to the challenge of running for public office is a fine development in my opinion.
I'm not a political partisan because I believe that good ideas can come from anywhere in the room. However I do feel that the crises that cover the land these days are primarily based in three areas of governance that are best understood and solved by successful business operators. The"End Times" prophesies of the Bible spoke of four horsemen of the apocalypse but I've got my own version of the three horsemen facing us right now: Lack of clear goals, a severe leadership vacuum and rampant failure to apply common sense. Science Fiction writer Robert Heinlein said "In the absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it." Would the rise of gossip based businesses such as TMZ or endlessly talking TV pundits fit the trivia description? The president of IBM or Ford Motor wouldn't last six months if they couldn't lay out company wide goals that employees and stakeholders could understand.

We are up to our eyes in politicians and people with impressive titles, but where are the true leaders, people with a glowing vision who can move others to lift their gaze and follow them without attempting to buy their support. The 1970 motion picture "Patton" still has people saying "now there was a leader." I think that we bestow the leader title on too many people who can barely follow, not to mention lead. I like what Thomas Paine had to say on the subject, "Lead, follow or get out of the way." I don't recall a U.S. President laying out a galvanizing national vision since John F. Kennedy's send a man to the moon speech. "Just say no" or a "War on poverty" never quite cut it.

As a child born in a small southern town, I often heard my parents and their friends say things like "that boy ain't got no sense" which implied a lack of perspective or simple foolishness. For example, if simple common sense had been applied to our current public employee pension systems, they wouldn't exist in this troubled form. A high school math failure could figure that out. It only takes a spoonful of common sense to know that a country can't tax its citizens into prosperity.

So, I'll be following the upcoming November election like it's the Super Bowl. I'll be cheering for candidates of any party who have proven themselves in the business arena. There is a revolution underway in our country and I hope that we find people who've managed in chaos before and gotten good results. I'll borrow a couple of lines from the biblical book of Ecclesiastes. "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven; a time to get, and a time to lose, a time to keep, and a time to cast away." I hope we lose some of the traditional politics, get a goal focused group of election winners, keep the template of what made America great and cast away those who don't get it.