Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Wishing It So 

Sometimes the most important message one can send is a wish, and if one believes the wish strongly enough, it will come true. Thus the famous quote from Franklin Delano Roosevelt that the only fear the American public should have was of fear itself.

I am reminded of this because of the testimony that Gen. John P. Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East gave to a Senate panel on Tuesday. He said the fact that insurgents in Iraq could not stop the voting there meant they are weakening. He said this, of course, the day after a car bomb killed 104 Iraqis, the most since the conflict began.

This is not a political criticism of Gen. Abizaid. I don't know if he is right or wrong. I appreciate his assessment for what it is -- good news designed to provide comfort. In dark hours there is need for bolstering. We must never forget Winston Churchill's speeches to the British during World War II. They were rabble-rousing and tub-thumping, but they were what the people needed. About the only president in memory who could not understand the need for a positive outlook appears to have been Jimmy Carter. He blamed the American public for malaise that wasn't justified. The public did not want to hear that, whether or not it was true. That is why Ronald Reagan with his sunny disposition was the next president.

This is not to say that leaders should lie. They should tell the truth but project command over events. Lying only gets one into trouble. Carly Fiorina won't live down her comment that her relations with the HP board were excellent only to be fired a few weeks later. There is a fine line between too much optimism and pessimism. It takes true leadership to know the distinction and to communicate it well.


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