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Our View: Referendum on performance

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  • | 4:00 a.m. October 31, 2012
  • Longboat Key
  • Opinion
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On the eve of the 2012 presidential election, it seems inconceivable that anyone intending to vote could be undecided at this moment.

But it could be true.

And if it is, if there are indeed some of you still wavering between re-electing Barack Obama or electing Mitt Romney, this week we are writing to you.

We’re not going to devolve into a debate over the merits of the candidates’ approaches to tax policy, the economy, deficits and entitlements. Instead, we believe there are two compelling matters that will provide the difference and lead you to your ultimate choice. One is honor. The other is leadership.

Together they converge at the root of the two candidates’ being — their character.

All along, over these past few weeks, we have repeated the belief that all candidate elections are referenda on the incumbents’ performance. Does he deserve to continue to represent you? Has he earned, through his performance, the right to remain in office? Did he demonstrate the behavior that earned your trust? Did he do the job as competently as you expect?

Honor and integrity
When we continue to hear the details of what happened on Sept. 11 in Benghazi, Libya — primarily from Fox News and, shamefully, virtually nothing from the mainstream media — we continue to wait for Barack Obama to tell the American people the truth.

What really happened?

The story for 50 days has been coming to light in pieces — and none of it definitively from the man who is expected to be truthful and straight. None of it from the man expected to demonstrate integrity and honor to the people he serves. Americans want that, they expect that from their Commander in Chief.

Americans stew with anger that terrorists attacked our sovereign propety in Libya and murdered four of our countrymen. But what makes the event all the more engraging is Americans have found out most of the details through unnamed news sources and memos that a few journalists have clawed and scraped to unearth. None of our public servants is coming clean.

This goes to the heart of honor and integrity. And it points to one man.

Read the books on honor and integrity. Look at the Core Values of the U.S. Marines, who serve under the Command in Chief. The first core value is Honor:

“Honor guides Marines to exemplify the ultimate in ethical and moral behavior; to never lie, cheat or steal; to abide by an uncompromising code of integrity; respect human dignity; and respect others. The quality of maturity, dedication, trust and dependability commit Marines to act responsibly; to be accountable for their actions; to fulfill their obligations; and to hold others accountable for their actions.

The books on business leadership teem with references to integrity and honor as deeply rooted, foundational requisites. When D.A. Benton wrote, “How to Act Like a CEO,” she included a section on what CEOs should do in a crisis:

“The steps, although important, aren’t as important as the tone and manner in which you carry them out. The mantle of integrity must pervade in every single detail in every way (italics added).

“Take charge,” she wrote. “You must call the shots.” Benton quoted Lee Roberts, CEO of FileNET: “When things are down, you have to be out in front. You’re the captain, it’s your problem.”

When the late Marvin Bower, first managing director of McKinsey & Co., wrote about leadership in the “Book of Business Wisdom,” he quoted Pearl S. Buck, the late Nobel Prize author: “Integrity is honesty carried through the fibers of the being and whole mind, into thought as well as action that the person is complete in honesty. That kind of integrity I put above all else as an essential of leadership.”

Americans want the truth
On the deaths of the four Americans in Benghazi — Christopher Stevens, Sean Smith, Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty, it was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, not Barack Obama, who said: “I take responsibility.” She didn’t elaborate. It’s still under investigation, she said.

Two weeks later, Fox News reported more details: “Upon hearing shots fired, team members asked higher-ups at the annex if they could go the consulate. However, they were told to ‘stand down,’ according to sources familiar with the exchange.

“Woods and at least two others ignored those orders and went to the consulate, evacuating survivors and Smith, who had been killed in the initial attack.

“They could not find the ambassador and returned to the CIA annex at about midnight. At that point, they called again for military support and help because they were taking fire at the CIA safe house, or annex. The request was denied. Woods and Doherty were killed at the annex by a mortar shell at 4 a.m.

“The CIA and Defense Department have denied claims about requests for support being rejected.”

Meantime, Tyrone Woods’ father has been quoted, saying: “Within minutes of the first bullet being fired, the White House knew these heroes would be slaughtered if immediate air support was denied. In less than an hour, the perimeters could have been secured, and American lives could have been saved. After seven hours fighting numerically superior forces, my son’s life was sacrificed because of the White House’s decision.”

Yet, when a Denver television reporter, on Oct. 26, asked the president if military support had been rejected, the president responded: “Well, we are finding out exactly what happened. I can tell you, as I’ve said over the last couple of months since this happened, the minute I found out what was happening, I gave three very clear directives. Number one, make sure that we are securing our personnel and doing whatever we need to …

“And I guarantee you,” he told the reporter, “that everyone in the state department, our military, the CIA, you name it, had number-one priority making sure that people were safe …”

But Americans still want to know: Is Fox right? Is Woods’ father right?

As the Marines’ core values require: Be accountable for your actions. Abide by an uncompromising code of integrity. In Thomas Horton’s book, “What Works for Me,” interviews with 16 CEOs, he writes: integrity is the essential quality. “Without integrity, there can be no trust. Leadership is based on trust.”

In the end, the story of Barack Obama’s role in the Benghazi murders is a defining story of his character.

Unable to bring them together
The second matter is leadership.

When we heard the president of the Longboat Key Democratic Club speak at a Venice Tiger Bay Club luncheon last summer, he spoke about his wish for seeing two parties come together so our nation could move forward. He chastised bitter partisanship.

And when you look over the past two years, ever since Republicans regained control of the House, the Washington news archives have been a two-year saga of partisan stalemate.

Disagreement is in the DNA of Washington, D.C., especially so in the House, Senate and White House. But in the whirl of a hurricane, or, say, the challenge of averting fiscal collapse, at some point the antagonistic sailors must pull together to save the ship. This takes a leader, a leader who can bring sides together, who is willing to reach out, who is willing to put himself second to others, who has the ability to persuade sides to compromise.

We haven’t seen that leader in Barack Obama. In “The Price of Politics,” Bob Woodward — critic of Republicans and Democrats alike — chronicles how President Obama alienated Republicans and business leaders in his first two years in office. The split between him and the House leadership in his second two years was wider than the first two. “Presidents,” Woodward said, figure out how to “work their will — or should work their will — on the important matters of national business.” Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton did, Woodward said. “Obama has not.”

This, too — the ability, or in Obama’s case, the inability to rally competing interests — is a matter of character.

Did he do the job?
If you evaluate what we have presented in the context of what America faces over the next four years, it is indeed relevant to ask, as we did at the outset: Has Barack Obama’s performance earned him the right to remain in office? Did he demonstrate the behavior that earned Americans’ trust? Did he do the job as competently as you expect?

On the two matters presented above — integrity and leadership, Obama’s refusal so far to face Americans fully and honestly about Benghazi and his inability to bring congressional sides together — for neutral thinkers it would seem difficult to answer in the affirmative.

We believe he has not.

If you conclude that as well, the next question is: Does Mitt Romney’s life and career serve as a sufficient predictor that his performance, that his character, would rise above the incumbent’s?

If you study the entirety of their lives side by side, the choice is clear: Mitt Romney.


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