The U.S. government shutdown has entered its third week of blame, frustration and stalemate. Among other consequences, shutdown collateral has resulted in 800,000 federal employees being furloughed, military families being denied death benefits for fallen troops, scientific research coming to a grinding halt and the loss of federal funding for women and children's services.
The government shutdown has left Americans witness to one of the ugliest episodes of political dysfunction in decades. Amidst stubborn and vitriolic rhetoric, Americans grow increasingly frustrated as their leaders forget what it means to lead. With sixty percent of Americans ready to replace every member of Congress -- including their own representatives -- here are some historic speeches on leadership and empathy our politicians would do well to re-play:
1. Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo slams President Reagan's "shining city" (July 16, 1984).
“There’s another part to the shining the city; the part where some people can't pay their mortgages, and most young people can't afford one; where students can't afford the education they need, and middle-class parents watch the dreams they hold for their children evaporate...
It won't be easy. And in order to succeed, we must answer our opponent's polished and appealing rhetoric with a more telling reasonableness and rationality… Now, it will happen. It will happen if we make it happen; if you and I make it happen. And I ask you now, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, for the good of all of us, for the love of this great nation, for the family of America, for the love of God: Please, make this nation remember how futures are built.”
2. Senator Margaret Chase Smith expresses disgust with political opportunism and bitterness (June 1, 1950).
"I would like to speak briefly and simply about a serious national condition... of fear… It is a condition that comes from the lack of effective leadership in either the Legislative Branch or the Executive Branch of our Government… too much harm has already been done with irresponsible words of bitterness and selfish political opportunism…
I think that it is high time for the United States Senate and its members to do some soul searching, for us to weigh our consciences on the manner in which we are performing our duty to the people of America -- on the manner in which we are using or abusing our individual powers and privileges…
Those of us who shout the loudest about Americanism in making character assassinations are all too frequently those who, by our own words and acts, ignore some of the basic principles of Americanism…”
3. Obama highlights empathy deficit (July 7, 2006).
“The last piece of advice is to cultivate a sense of empathy. There's a lot of talk in this country right now about the federal deficit…One of the things I’d like us to see talk more about is the empathy deficit - the capacity that sometimes seems absent in our culture, to put ourselves in somebody else's shoes, to see through their eyes... the child who's hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman who cleans your dorm room, the conservative who is standing outside an abortion clinic protesting."
4. Bill Clinton dominates George H.W. Bush in presidential debate (October 11, 1992).
Question from the audience: “How has the national debt personally affected each of you and if it hasn’t, how can you honestly find a cure for the economic problems of the common people if you have no experience in what’s ailing them?”
Bush: I’m sure it has…I love my grandchildren…Are you suggesting that if a person has means that the national debt doesn't affect them? I'm not sure I get it.
Clinton: In my state, when people lose their jobs there's a good chance I'll know them by their names. When a factory close, I know the people who ran it. When the businesses go bankrupt, I know them.
And I've been out here…with people like you all over America, people that have lost their jobs, lost their livelihood, lost their health insurance… What I want you to understand is the national debt is not the only cause of that. It is because America has not invested in its people. It is because we have not grown…I think we have to do is invest in American jobs, American education, control American health care costs and bring the American people together again.
5. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt sick of talk, calls for action (March 4, 1933).
“Restoration calls, however, not for changes in ethics alone. This Nation asks for action, and action now… Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously...There are many ways in which it can be helped, but it can never be helped merely by talking about it. We must act and act quickly… because without such discipline no progress is made, no leadership becomes effective...We aim at the assurance of a rounded and permanent national life… The people of the United States have not failed. In their need they have registered a mandate that they want direct, vigorous action…”
6. Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) shares what he learned from his mother about honesty and leadership
"In recent years we as a country have too often chosen the same path. It's been easy for our leaders to say 'Not us, not now' in taking on the really tough issues. And unfortunately, we've stood silently by and let them get away with it. But tonight I say, enough! Enough. Together, let's make a much different choice...to do what is right and what is necessary to make America great again. It. We are demanding that our leaders stop tearing each other down and work together to take action on the big things facing America tonight...Our history shows that we stand up when it counts and it's this quality that defines America's character and our significance in the world."
7. Major-General (Ret’d) Lewis Wharton MacKenzie gives powerful message about leadership.
“Anything to keep working for him—that’s what leadership is to me. When you can generate that type of loyalty and commitment, you got to be doing something right…. Leadership is getting people to do what they don’t necessarily want to do and have them enjoy the experience. Because any idiot can lead in good times. When the market’s booming and business is great and everybody in the world wants to move to Burlington…I mean put a monkey in charge. When everything’s going really well, you don’t need a leader. The problem is you need them in times of crisis and challenge and that seems to be a perpetual state for us these days…
You the leader need to create an atmosphere where people can disagree without being disagreeable.”
8. General Douglas MacArthur emphasizes the importance of duty, honor and country (May 12, 1962).
(Comments begin at the 9:28 mark.)
“Duty, Honor, Country: Those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points: to build courage when courage seems to fail; to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith; to create hope when hope becomes forlorn…
They teach you to be proud and unbending in honest failure, but humble and gentle in success; not to substitute words for actions, not to seek the path of comfort, but to face the stress and spur of difficulty and challenge; to learn to stand up in the storm but to have compassion on those who fall; to master yourself before you seek to master others; to have a heart that is clean, a goal that is high; to learn to laugh, yet never forget how to weep; to reach into the future yet never neglect the past; to be serious yet never to take yourself too seriously; to be modest so that you will remember the simplicity of true greatness, the open mind of true wisdom, the meekness of true strength.”
9. Jane Goodall explains “What Separates us From the Apes” (May 27, 2009).
“We can talk about the distant past, plan for the distant future, discuss ideas with each other, so that the ideas can grow from the accumulated wisdom of a group. We can do it by talking to each other; we can do it through video; we can do it through the written word. And we are abusing this great power we have to be wise stewards, and we're destroying the world…
So how do we solve? The tools for solving the problems are knowledge and understanding. Know the facts, but see how they fit in the big picture… Hard work and persistence -- don't give up -- and love and compassion leading to respect for all life.”