Celebrating Sanity Is Not Enough to Restore It

Many of us at HBS have been in boardrooms where executives have had to grapple with very tough issues facing their companies. Imagine an executive walks into a board meeting saying, “We need to improve X and make significant changes. The current model is not working.

do not know, however, what to do exactly; and I also do not know how to convince you all that this change is needed.” The hypothetical executive above is not very helpful for the company. My conversations with voters across the country and at that rally in particular lead me to think of them as such an executive. Voters are savvy enough to recognize the problems – we all are – but voters are finding it very hard to be a part of the solution.

We all have come to learn this about leadership: it is not just about the glorious speeches and inspiring moments of management insight; but it is also, and more importantly so, about burning the midnight oil to work on the details and nuances of an intricate and balanced operation. The past weekend the “sane people” all came for the rally, made their point, and then left DC. What we really need is a fair number of these “sane people” to stay within the beltway, get elected to Congress, and eliminate insanity, one legislative maneuver at a time. Clearly, the entrenched political parties and their candidacy systems have made this difficult. But we all know, from the signs in the rally, that “Change takes time”.

There is a hunger among the masses — a deep held desire to restore civility and pragmatism in political rhetoric. People are also afraid, confused, and angry. Congressional approval ratings have been at dismal lows for a long time under both Democratic and Republican Congresses. There is significant distrust of both the political parties. Americans are finding it tough to find direction. The ambivalence and volatility in voting patterns are quite bizarre. Electing Obama in a national wave of “change” from the Bush era, then electing Scott Brown to replace Kennedy on Kennedy’s signature issue, then voting Republicans in large droves into the Congress and Governors’ mansions in the recent mid-term poll – legislative agendas have been volleyed back and forth much like a high-frequency pendulum.

At the rally, this hunger among the masses was salient and omnipresent. People had flown in from all corners of the country with signs highlighting the practical and sensible views similar to the ones advanced by Stewart and Colbert. However, as delightfully funny as they are, both Stewart and Colbert are first and foremost comics. To find political hope and solace in comedians is actually not funny. To hope that somehow Stewart and Colbert will have an agenda of change to address the issues facing America is deeply concerning.

On the surface the rally was quite funny in parts and a grand success. However, the rally was quite badly organized. There were few screens, and very few speakers – making the high quality entertainment out of reach of most people in attendance. Many of our HBS crew at the rally left early, and many others decided to turn away from afar watching the throngs of un-entertained enthusiasts worming around a massive crowd. Perhaps this is somewhat symbolic. Stewart and Colbert have done their part in bubbling up different issues into the public square in a creative and entertaining fashion. Voters now need to do their part, hunt for solutions, open up to disagreements and compromise, and genuinely restore sanity all around America.

Dinkar was on the Harbus Board of Directors in 2009-10. He currently lives in Washington, DC.