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It’s a tough business

Question: As the Senate’s “Gang of Six” struggle to come to agreement on a bipartisan budget plan, they are under intense social pressure from their caucus colleagues to abandon the effort and stick with the party line. In a clubby place like the Senate, social ostracism can be a real concern. From your experience, what role does social pressure on leaders play in their decision-making and how should leaders deal with it?

This is a classic tension between principle and consequences.  Purists will demand that each individual stand on their principles, always.  However we do live in a community, and living with others requires compromise. Politics, of all activities, is a process of finding compromise to build consensus. Senators and politicians know all too well that they need the help of others to be effective.

That said, there is also a time to take a stand and resist social pressure. Deciding when that time has come is a matter not only of personal conviction, but also of good judgment and experience. While we can not afford to have politicians who insist on ‘doing right, though the heavens may fall,’ we also can't afford to have politicians who stand for nothing beyond collegiality within their peer group, and winning the next election.    

It is telling to find out when our congressional leaders are willing to put their career, reputation and standing with their peers on the line and resist all pressure to change. A leader who will never risk those things is dangerous and corruptible; a leader for whom each issue is a moral line in the sand, can't lead diverse groups--and America is a diverse country.

Martin Luther King's letter from the Birmingham jail chastised those who sought compromise and half-steps with racism. Has deficit spending become the no-compromise issue of the 21st century? We may be moving in that direction.

For our politicians, the most important social pressure will come from the electorate. And because of that, I believe compromise will be found--with each side holding onto their fundamental values, and seeking not to give away the farm. Meanwhile, social and peer pressure is doing exactly what it is supposed to: representing widely held perspectives, and forcing congressmen to make decisions. Meanwhile, congressmen have to work together to find common ground in order to govern.  It's a tough business.

View all panel responses to the discussion Under pressure?

Bob Schoultz  | Apr 26, 2011 12:42 PM

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