There is a story about Mahatma Gandhi. A mother was concerned about how much sugar her son was eating; and so seeking advice, she took her son to see Gandhi. She asked Gandhi if he would tell her son to stop eating sugar. Gandhi replied come back next week. The following week the mother and son returned and Gandhi told the son to stop eating sugar. The mother asked Gandhi, “This was a very arduous journey for us to come to see you, why couldn’t you have told my son last week to stop eating sugar?” Gandhi replied, “Last week I was eating sugar, this week I gave it up.”
This story illustrates a central tenet of Gandhi’s leadership philosophy: “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” One of the reasons that Gandhi was a great leader was because he was an authentic leader. An authentic leader inspires others because they are true to their core values and purpose.
How many authentic leaders, whose actions match their stated values, are running for president? Consider the case of Hillary Clinton.
Recently, the New York Times interviewed Hillary Clinton on economic policy. In the interview, Clinton “put her emphasis on issues like inequality and the role of institutions like government, rather than market forces.” Clinton talked of “economic excesses — including executive-pay packages she characterized as often ‘offensive’ and ‘wrong’ and a tax code that had become ‘so far out of whack’ in favoring the wealthy.” Touching a sensitive nerve, Clinton said that these excesses “were holding down middle-class living standards.”
Few could disagree that the middle-class are being squeezed. Salary increases for many Americans are failing to keep up with rising energy and food prices; and in spite of the bursting of the housing bubble, real estate prices remain high. In many organizations, CEO pay has reached troubling levels; and CEO pay doesn’t even seem to be tied to performance.
In the 1950s the average CEO earned 40 times the average pay of his employees; today that number is closer to 400 times. In an expanding economy, such disparities are little noticed; in a troubled economy, this is a recipe for middle-class discontent.
Yet, is Mrs. Clinton suited to address middle-class living standards? This past Friday, during the Nevada primary campaign, the Clinton campaign called the N9NE Steakhouse at the Palms in Las Vegas. According to a Las Vegas source:
The Clintons’ tab came to $1,530 and included entrees of nine steaks, three chicken, three salmon and three Maine scallops, two lobster pappardelle, salads, sashimi, rock shrimp, and various side dishes.
Defender of the middle-class? One cannot help but wonder how many small campaign checks the Clinton campaign had collected from middle class donors—donors who could never dream of such an expensive meal. Is Clinton being the change she says she wants to see in the world?
How can so many be so hoodwinked? Fear, caused by difficult economic times, brings forth polarizing politicians—politicians who stir-up discontent while offering increasingly demagogic solutions to problems. Until the time comes when the public is ready to listen to politicians who address root causes and engage in reasoned dialogue about these causes, we can be sure our economic difficulties are far from over.