What happened to leadership? | AspenTimes.com

What happened to leadership?

Janet Urquhart’s recent front-page article in The Aspen Times that reported upon the Aspen City Council’s inability to make any kind of a definitive statement for or against the impending American military action in Iraq was astounding.

What an important piece of reporting! It stands as perhaps the clearest, most-recent statement regarding the worthiness of some of our council members’ future in office.

Ordinarily, the incompetent and near-comic shenanigans of this group are either digestible with some effort (as in the case of the lost, free Eagles concert) or easily ignored, since we have become so accustomed to political leadership being frequently a distillation of a community’s low common denominator and self-interest.

A sensitive person would just hurt too much to take it seriously day-to-day. Of course, this is a pessimistic view of the capacity of our so-called civic leaders to actually provide leadership from a personal level, let alone from a collective committee level. But, Ms. Urquhart’s article is too perfect a vindication of such a view, and should be framed.

One of the nice features of American democracy is that the power a governmental body possesses is derived from its people, and for that reason Tony Hershey’s argument against taking a stand on the impending War for the Liberation of Iraq, The War Against Terrorism, The War To Depose Saddam, The War For The Safety Of George Bush’s Father, or whatever it happens to be today, achieves a marginal level of soundness.

Tony states (and is quoted by Ms. Urquhart) that, “I have no idea what the people of Aspen want.” Well, that alone is a good enough reason for anyone not to vote for him again!

Then, he finishes his statement, “… whether they’re for a war or against a war.” Jeez, what kind of leadership is this? I think a basic rule for good governance should be that the governors HAVE AN IDEA what the people want. It is a simple proposition.

Tony also thinks it would be disrespectful to our troops in Iraq to take some position on the war. This is such a good example of the “cover your ass” brand of political leadership (er, that is sidestepping) that it is absurd, and besides, it is most particularly what (supposedly, but not really) we might soon be fighting to preserve, i.e. the necessity for a democratic society to actively pursue debate over critical issues of importance.

The current administration in Washington, and apparently the current one in Aspen, would like to diminish the debate, or maybe in our council’s case, just avoid it altogether if possible.

Later, in her article it is reported that Tom McCabe admonishes Terry Paulson for not tabling a resolution sooner. “If it was so important to you, you should have brought it to us sooner.” And, so much for Mr. McCabe’s leadership on this issue.

I guess having had a citizen’s resolution since late last year to consider wasn’t enough time for Tom to form an opinion. More likely, he has one, but doesn’t want to let on. Just say what you believe, and the people will believe you. They may actually agree with you, or maybe not, but at least they will believe in you as a leader.

Meanwhile, the article makes it sound like Terry was blabbering away with one idea or another for a resolution until he came up with the completely vanilla expression, “Aspen supports peace,” which, being so undifferentiated a stance, it was thereupon unanimously approved.

Well, recently Saddam was noted as having stated his support for peace. France too. Presumably, the City Council also supports hot chocolate, but one must wonder if they still support French fries.

Ultimately, the real comeuppance for our community came from our Mayor. Helen noted for the record that Aspen’s position, i.e. Aspen City Council’s position, is not likely to make a difference, and later managed the hypothesis that the citizens’ attempt (which she characterized as a “power struggle “) to get the council to “take some sort of a position has trivialized what is probably the biggest issue facing us today.”

Her surreal juxtaposition of the fact that this is a critically important issue with how little a difference she believes community leadership makes (her own, or the entire community’s?) is really cause for bewilderment.

How can an apparently (one still hopes) lucid community leader be so confused or fearful of committing to an idea? There’s no vision like show vision, therefore our council must be for show.

Terry deserves some credit for his effort to cajole his reluctant partners into saying something. Unfortunately, the council had nothing meaningful to say or add.

This is a sad note for all of us who really do still believe in clear thinking, open debate and the concept of leadership. When will our elected officials realize their responsibility to have an opinion, and take the kind of risk involved in clearly standing for something?

George Mahaffey


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