America began with and has since thrived on the can-do spirit of its immigrant
founders and the eternally optimistic entrepreneurial attitude of those who have led this nation to its
current greatness. While this country has always been saddled with a minority of vocal naysayers, we have
been blessed by having leaders with the foresight and perseverance to overcome or ignore these
In 1775, American Tories, the naysayers of their time and place, resisted the call for
independence because they said we could never succeed in defeating Britain, the greatest power in the world at
that time. They opposed any war with the mother country for fear of losing the wealth that they had previously
acquired. Fortunately, leaders and rabble-rousers of the time stepped up to the plate, pledging their lives,
their fortunes and their sacred honor to the task of achieving the independence for their country.
They said “Yes we can” and they led the way forward.
Once hostilities commenced in the American Revolution, there were those who didn’t
have the fortitude and commitment to “stay the course.” As the American Revolution developed,
soldiers who joined the Continental Army during the spring or summer but went AWOL in the fall or winter
were known as "summer soldiers." Some would sneak off in the middle of the night once the weather
got cold. Then there were the people who supported the revolutionaries when the revolution was going
well -- but not otherwise. These were called "sunshine patriots." As Thomas Paine wrote:
The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of
their country. He was talking -- quite literally in the former case -- about the fair-weather
friends of the Revolution. Throughout our history, we all too often have run across the summer
soldier and the sunshine patriot. When the going has got tough, they have been the quitters.
These are the cut-and run citizens, the ones without the courage and the stamina to persevere through the dark days.
These are the Americans who vowed to “Never Forget!” after 9-11 but have clamored to
“get out of Afghanistan” once they realized that Islamic fanaticism would not be defeated in a day,
a week or a year. They were on board when they imagined that the battle would be won easily and
quickly, but they quit as soon as it became clear that the fight would be long, drawn out and
costly in terms of lives and money.
Both George Washington and Abraham Lincoln demonstrated the leadership
qualities of the great men that they proved that they were. As general in the Revolution, George
Washington lost nearly every battle he fought until the one final victory that resulted in our
independence from Britain. At the same time, he had to endure the backbiting of those not on
the firing line and the often lukewarm support of the Continental Congress. He persevered
through all the bad times until final victory was achieved. Abraham Lincoln’s story is much the same.
Through much of the Civil War, the Union Army was defeated in battle after battle by the Confederate
forces under Robert E. Lee. Lincoln kept his eye on the end goal until victory was achieved following
the appointment of Ulysses S. Grant to leadership of the Union army. Lincoln had to endure the incessant
sniping of his political opponents and their incessant calls to quit the war and give in to the demands
of the Southern Confederacy. Both Washington and Lincoln demonstrated that essential quality of
leadership – a refusal to give up in the face of adversity and a fierce determination to reach
the ultimate objective – victory.
Today’s America faces a host of problems, among them: global conflict with
radical Islamic terrorism that may not end for decades; environmental imperatives with uncertain
causes and effects; world-wide economic turmoil; immigration; health-care; increasing global
industrial and economic competition; and potential future military confrontations throughout the world.
To meet these challenges, America must develop, produce and bring to the forefront those individuals
with the skills and qualities needed to assume leadership roles throughout the political, military,
industrial, commercial nad educational segments of our society. The majority of Americans must be
willing to accept and support the leadership of those qualified to lead and who are so inclined.
Those Americans who are unwilling to be productive and to follow the paths laid out by our leaders
will need to get out of the way or be trampled on America’s ongoing path to success. In other words
Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way!
Unfortunately, there are all too many among us whose only goals in life are to
drag their feet, impede the progress of the doers, take the fruits of victory away from those who have
put in the blood, sweat and tears to achieve the victory, and redistribute these rewards among themselves
and others who have done nothing to contribute to the achievement of the victory. There are still others
who impugn the motives of the doers, criticize their efforts without offering constructive alternatives
and to whom life is nothing but negative – it can’t be done, it won’t work, it’s not the right way
(there never is a right way), and let’s wait. The current Occupy Wall Street Movement perhaps symbolizes
these eternal pessimists. Occupy Wall Street people have a number of complaints but offer no program to
correct the problems about which they are protesting. Their movement is one of negativity and not one of
progress. Cal Thomas called the Occupy Wall Street Movement an “envy culture.” He went on to say that,
“Envy is greed’s equally bad brother. Those who lack what they think they deserve lust after the money
and property of wealth creators. They seem to know little of what used to be called the ‘work ethic’”.
What this country desperately needs are leaders with integrity, with a ferocious
resolve – a determination to do whatever needs to be done to get the job done. We need leaders with the
determination and toughness and even ruthlessness in pursuit of the goals that need to be reached. What we
don’t need are politicians beholden to others, politicians without conviction, politicians incapable of
accepting honest dissent, politicians who spend most of their time getting ready for the next election,
or politicians who spout rhetoric but never are capable of following up. There comes a time when words
must be followed by action. Paraphrasing Theodore Roosevelt, we need leaders who can pick good men to
do what needs to be done, and have the self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.
Appropriate advice came from the late U.S. Representative and Senator Everett Dirksen, who, in effect said
that a great leader needed to be a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be
flexible at all times. According to Winston Churchill, The price of greatness is responsibility.
which reflects Harry Truman’s famous statement that The buck stops here! In other words, don’t try
to blame anyone else for problems - instead, blame the person in the mirror. We need leaders who do not
try to please everybody. Instead, we need principled and inspired leaders with the need to please themselves.
According to George Orwell, we need leaders who offer blood, toil, tears and sweat rather than leaders
spouting rhetoric who only promise their followers safety and a good time.
America needs leaders who are not afraid to do what is right for America, leaders who
are not captives to political correctness or a need to be loved by all. Better to be respected and /or feared or
hated while doing what is best for America that to be loved while American interests are ignored and/or lost.
Winning Noble Peace Prizes or popularity contests should not be the goals of our leaders. Success in achieving
American objectives must be the goal. In terms of our foreign policy, what we need are leaders that are
“bastards for peace” as author Thomas L. Friedman put it. What we need are leaders who will play by
the rules of a civilized world when the other side also plays by these rules, but a leader who is not afraid to
play by the rules of the jungle when the other side does not respect the rules of a civilized world.
Domestically, we don’t need leaders who pander to: the left or the right; big business or the unions;
the rich or the poor; the tree-huggers or the robber-barons. Instead, we need leaders whose only commitment
is to the principles of American democracy and to the betterment of the American nation as a whole.
We need leaders who are dissatisfied with the status quo and who have a vision of
something better beyond the current state of affairs. These are leaders who will take responsibility for
their own lives and futures, who will exercise their independent judgment, often in opposition to conventional
wisdom, using their ingenuity to come up with new ideas, inventions, innovations, or enterprises.
They are risk-takers who have the courage to travel new paths into perilous territory to reach their
As we said earlier, what is needed are Americans who can lead, Americans who can
follow, and those who need to simply get out of the way. For those of us who wish to do our part by
following the lead of the right leaders, we need to do more than sitting back and being passive.
In the Jewish religion, there are a number of prayers that are recited every morning when one awakens.
These prayers thank God for all that we have, but, even more importantly, they prepare us go out into the
every-day world to start the new day and to go forward to improve our lives and the lives of those around us.
We all need to the same. Every new day, we should each thank the Lord for what we have and then move on to
improve the lives of everyone on this planet. For every misfortune, calamity, disaster and change, there is
opportunity. Life offers no guarantees. There are only challenges to be met and adversities to be dealt with.
There are lessons to be learned and mistakes to be avoided in the future. The human race learns from its
mistakes, but humanity must never stop striving to improve and move forward. Each and every day, we should
simply do our best, we should prepare as best we can for the worst, BUT, we should always keep
moving forward. A long-dominant feature of the American spirit has been that of persistence, with the
accompanying admonition: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” All too often today, this admonition
has been distorted to read: “If at first you don’t succeed, don’t try again; instead, turn to the government
for a handout or to a lawyer and the courts.” Bill Bradley, a former U.S. senator and a former professional
basketball player observed: “Ambition is the path to success. Persistence is the vehicle to arrive
America’s pioneering spirit has made the United States of America what it is today
and this spirit has given all of us that have the privilege of living in this country the unprecedented
standard of living that has been achieved. There are those among us who will only point to the inequalities
and imperfections present in our society, never acknowledging the greater good that has been achieved.
These are the eternal pessimists; the Chicken Little’s for whom the sky is always falling. Among these
eternal pessimists are those that are jealous and envious of those who succeed, those who demonstrate
the courage to lead, and those that have the vision and foresight to take the risks and reap the rewards
of the true pioneers, the entrepreneurs and the adventurers. These eternal pessimists feel guilt because
they have not had the courage to try. These are the parasites who want to take what the successful
risk-takers have earned and give the rewards of their risk-taking to those who sit on the side lines,
while eternally carping and complaining about how unfair life is. In a business school class that
I was taking, a “successful” entrepreneur was asked what was his definition of a “successful entrepreneur”?
His reply was: “A successful entrepreneur is one who has achieved at least one success, no matter
how many failures he encountered along the way.” The important message here is
KEEP TRYING – NEVER GIVE UP!
Instead of paying attention to these prophets of doom, let’s focus on all the
good that has been produced and the good that we are yet capable of achieving. We need to maintain an
attitude and spirit that is one of optimism and the conviction that all obstacles are simply challenges to be
overcome. Historically, Americans have been a people that have ignored and brushed aside those who have cautioned:
“we can’t”, “wait”, “stop”. Instead, America has listened to and followed those who have urged us
forward with the challenges of: “follow me”, we can do it”, and “forward”. The results are here for all to
Because of America’s “pioneers” and their can-do spirit the United States
has been among the leaders in the world in producing the marvels of modern medicine, in the doubling
of our life-span, in sending man into space and landing on the moon, in leading to victory in two world wars,
in providing the modern marvels of television, mass communication, computers, the internet,
world wide travel and so much more. When France failed in its attempt to build a canal across Central America,
America took up the challenge and succeeded in building the Panama Canal. During World War II,
the decision was made to develop the atomic bomb. In spite of enormous obstacles, America succeeded where
Nazi Germany failed. In the 1960’s America determined to put man on the moon. Russia failed in its attempt.
Within a decade, in spite of setbacks and technological difficulties, American astronauts were walking on
the moon and returning lunar sample to earth. Each of these achievements could be characterized by that
famous phrase, “FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION!”
In the classic movie Rocky, we all root for the hero Rocky Balboa because
he tells us that no matter how much life beats you down, if you can find the strength to pick yourself
back up, you are a winner. Rocky also tells us that certain things are worth fighting for --
risking losing for the dream of winning. Rocky epitomized the American Spirit. Rocky strikes a universal
Today, Americans are bombarded with the following advice: "Stay down!
Striving for personal success is evil. You're entitled to the fruit of the labor of someone else.
Illegal immigration is fine. Enforcing the law is insensitive, heartless, and racist.
Competition damages self-esteem. Capitalism is unfair. Expecting immigrants to learn English is
cruel and racist. We expect very little of you. Don't strive for excellence." In keeping with
this advice that appeals to our lower nature and mindset, our minorities receive messages like
"You're victims of American racism. You deserve handouts. America is controlled by rich white people."
The people offering such advice refuse to celebrate the "Rockys" of America -- folks who sacrifice,
take risks, and struggle to achieve a better life for their families and themselves. Instead,
they demonize achievers, calling them selfish and greedy exploiters of the poor.
Some say the American Dream is dead today. Nobody wants to work hard
to achieve a goal. They believe America has been divided into numerous victimized groups,
all believing they are entitled. These fatalists say far too many Americans would rather sit
on their butts and wait for whatever entitlement crumbs the government throws their way.
I say they are wrong! Rocky is very much alive and well in the hearts and minds of millions
of Americans who still celebrate ambition, courage, and personal achievement. No matter how
many times the American spirit is knocked down, it always gets back up. That’s the American
Can-do spirit. It was there in 1776 and it is still here more than 200 years later.
What we Americans need to practice is greater personal responsibility.
The personal responsibility characteristic of our American ancestors is being replaced by attitudes
of passivity and entitlement, of expecting and even demanding that others take care of one’s problems.
What we don’t need is a risk-averse culture that promotes the abrogation of personal responsibility
and that promotes public consensus over independent judgment. Perhaps the greatest challenge that
we face is the removal of the barriers put up by our government. What we need are political leaders
who will seek to educate the public, to work with think tanks, allies, and interest groups, and form
coalitions that aim at radical results. These political leaders would earn favorable comparisons with
America’s original pioneering leaders: Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Lincoln.
Those who would take the leadership role in America are today faced with a
diffident culture and obstructive government policies. As opposed to yesterday’s pioneering spirit,
today, there is growing risk aversion in our culture. The environmentalist movement is notable for
giving us the so-called “precautionary principle.” This is the notion that if products or new production
processes pose any sort of risks — often highly speculative or vague ones unsupported by any sound science —
then such products or processes should be banned. For the environmentalist, the burden should be on the
pioneer to prove that no harm to humans or to “the environment” will result from their efforts.
Today’s culture is also permeated with the destructive effects of an obsession with “equality”
which is frequently motivated by envy. As a result, the leaders are discouraged from moving forward
and destructive government policies are implemented in order to force the attainment of this so-called
“equality.” Another threat to pioneering leadership is resistance from those who are invested in the
status quo. In an open and competitive society, leaders can make progress because no one is allowed
to use force to stop them. But supporters of the status quo usually turn to the government to protect
their inferior or failing ways.
As we said earlier, what is needed are Americans who can lead, Americans
who can follow and those who need to simply get out of the way. For those of us who wish to do our
part by following the lead of the right leaders, we need to do more than sitting back and being passive.
For much too long now, far too many of us have been looking to other people, the government in particular,
to solve all of our problems. It ain’t going to happen! We need to do our part.
Because of our passivity, we have been a major contributor to our country’s problems.
We need to become truly concerned citizens and we need to vote out of office those rascals who do
nothing, or worse, those elected officials with near-lifetime-tenure who obstruct the progress that is needed.
We need to be willing to make the necessary sacrifices and we need to make sure that our elected
representatives understand this. We need to refuse to accept from the government what we don’t earn;
we need to refuse to steal from the rich to give to the poor; we need to resolve the illegal immigration
problem once and for all with compassion, with realism, with respect for law, and on a one-by-one basis,
not on a one-size-fits-all criterion; we need to be realistic about what we, as a nation, can afford and
what we must be willing to pay for these necessary goods and services; we must insist upon a smaller
government bureaucracy, on less restrictive government regulations, codes, and laws that are readily
comprehensible and which have few, if any, loopholes; we must insist upon policies that encourage and
reward the best and brightest among us; we must reject programs that take from the most productive and
give to the least productive, while, at the same time, we must ensure that the less fortunate among us
receive what they need to avoid poverty and exploitation.