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Leading with principles

Published 10:46am Thursday, January 26, 2012

Principle – 1. A basic truth, law, or assumption. 2. A rule or standard. 3. A fixed or predetermined policy or mode of action.  4. A rule or law concerning the functioning of natural phenomena or mechanical processes.
It’s pretty clear from the definition of “principle” that it is not something that varies with the wind (or political aspiration).  A principle has to be based on facts, not opinions. When you say that a person is principled, it means that the person bases their actions and opinions on facts and truths. A principled person pursues the “truths” of living, politics, science, religion or whatever endeavor they pursue in life and applies what they’ve learned to their general principles. Unfortunately, no one person is able to be clearly principled in everything that a complex world has to offer, and no one is perfect in their own field of endeavor much less one where they are a novice.
If you’re human then you are a novice in many areas of life.  Your ability to be principled is limited to those areas where you know the facts and truths. The facts and truths that you can base your principles on don’t change with time because they are fundamental. Of course, you can become more general, often referred to going to the “50,000 foot” (altitude) level, to establish your principles. The “Ten Commandments” come to mind and they are best for establishing moral principles for daily living.
A politician that becomes an elected official has to deal with working for the “common good” (I know, I know, many of them are just there working for themselves – especially when they become “political consultants or lobbyists”-remind you of anyone?). My point is that we seem to have too many politicians that claim they have principles that won’t allow them to solve problems once they are in office.
“Read my lips, no new taxes” is an example of a foolish declaration of principle. Saying you won’t raise taxes is like a businessman saying, “Read my lips, we will never raise prices.”  Taxes are a tool of “governance” that provide resources to accomplish societal priorities. Sometimes they need to go up and sometimes they need to go down, and sometimes they just need to be re-aligned. If you limit your options, you limit your solutions and the China train keeps leaving us further behind.
“No compromise” is another foolish declaration of principle.  Sounds good for a sports event or war, but is an unworkable principle in politics. Politics is the process of compromise. Without it, there is no governance, just uncertainty. Uncertainty in politics is harmful to the economy – as was demonstrated all during 2011 with our new slate of “principled” legislators. People in power that hang on to foolish principles and cause everyone else to suffer don’t need to be in politics. They should be in jail.
I fear today’s “Principled Politician” more than any other type because they tend to ignore fundamental truths and facts when they don’t serve their purpose. They should not to be taken seriously.
One test for a principle is whether or not it is really just an individuals’ opinion. Just because you can “think it” or “rationalize it” doesn’t make it a principle or a truth. Just because a “Super-PAC” says it over and over again on a political TV commercial, doesn’t make it fact or truth, but it could qualify as propaganda. An opinion not fully supported by fact or truth is not a principle, it is rhetoric.  The primary intent is to deceive.
We have these people publicly proclaiming that their leadership will be based on “so or so” principle and they will never waiver. Unfortunately for us, their principles are based on popularism. Popularism is not all bad, but it’s like eating too much cake – it needs to be taken in moderation. The downside is that people believe this stuff because of our “other national deficit;” critical thinking.
Personally, I look for leaders that have broad principles like democratic governance of a capitalistic economy. I don’t look for leaders with rhetorically popular “sound bites” trying to give instant gratification. But most of all, I look at their records and how they’ve governed or managed a business. I also look at their personal lives.  There is much to be learned by how they’ve treated people, how they’ve managed the power that was given to them and who (people and corporations) they are influenced by.
One of the most important roles of our Democracy is to manage our capitalistic economy to ensure the benefits of its success fairly reach all who contributed. If the principle adopted by a politician, President or legislator doesn’t ensure this, then most of us will be on the losing end. And no “Alice,” there is no hidden hand of capitalism that keeps everything in balance. It still, and has always taken, democratic governance to counter-balance the “greed and power” aspects of capitalism. It is not a perfect system, but when it has been given a chance to work for us all, it has.

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