Mr. President, It's 3AM!
During the 2008 presidential campaign, then-candidate Hilary Clinton ridiculed Barack Obama's inexperience with the famous ad asking who you wanted to answer the phone during a crisis at 3AM.
Today, it is apparent that our nation desperately needs someone with experience, decisiveness, and leadership to navigate these troubled economic waters.
Efforts to blame Secretary Geithner and demand his resignation are misplaced. While the secretary is not blameless, responsibility for this crisis rests with the congressional leadership in the 1990s that led to the efforts to make home ownership a national right and not a concurrent responsibility. Blame is due for failing to address critical funding issues with Social Security and Medicare which pose an equally similar risk to our economy. Blame lies in so many areas.
Blame at 3AM is not the issue. The issue in time of crisis is the response and only the response.
Thus far, our nation's response has been to increase the debt ceiling and provide a tepid response to critical spending issues.
It's now 3AM and the world is wondering who is going to answer the phone.
The experienced leader must be willing to sacrifice his or her current position to make tough decisions, to be decisive, and to provide strong leadership during the crisis.
In the case of Ford Motor Company which was hemorrhaging cash, Bill Ford was, in 2006, chairman, CEO, COO, and president. When asked what he needed, Bill Ford replied, "I really don't much care. What I want is the right person."
The right person was Alan Mulally, but it was also Bill Ford. Alan Mulally was the right person because he was decisive. He was a leader. He worked with the UAW, with the dealers, with suppliers, and with customers to transform a dying company in a dying industry.
Bill Ford was the right person as well. The leadership of knowing when someone else was needed is powerful. Ford placed his ego aside and did the right thing at the right time for the right reasons.
IBM faced a similar crisis in 1992. In an equally brilliant move, IBM hired Lou Gerstner, Jr. to turn around "an elephant." IBM was bleeding cash. Gerstner, in his book Who Says Elephants Can't Dance?, describes his first priority as restoring solvency to IBM.
Ford and IBM stand as but two examples of leadership, decisive and deliberate, that saved two mature companies from extinction.
In much the same way, our federal government needs such an historic decision to remain solvent.
Temporary fixes and blaming S&P are pure nonsense. The blame game must stop and decisive action must be taken.
The cure to fiscal irresponsibility is incredibly simple but it is equally incredibly tough.
In a turnaround, pleasing everyone is impossible. Everyone must feel the pain. Everyone will share in the gain.
Popularity cannot be the objective for the turnaround to be effective and permanent.
In the turnaround, many people will often deny that there is a problem. The naysayers will demonize anyone who attempts to stop their spending spree. In reality, in a troubled organization, someone other than the company will eventually call the shots.
In much the same way as the European Union is dictating to Greece, the buyers of our nation's debt will shortly dictate to us what they will and will not accept. President Obama has yet to realize that it is no longer his decision. He has abdicated his power but is not yet aware of what he has happened to his presidency and our Nation.
Our crisis will come when interest rates go higher, deficits increase to fund interest costs, and program cuts become mandated by lack of funds. Those days are coming.
Now is the time for decisive leadership from our president. A great leader is willing to make very tough decisions. It is time to tell the world that we understand the severity of our crisis and that we are willing to do what is needed to save the nation from financial disaster.
In reality, the president has but two choices. Either answer the phone or resign!
If the president decides to answer the phone during this time of crisis, he must be prepared to make very tough choices. He must be willing to sacrifice reelection for the good of the nation. He must be a diplomat. He must place service before self and principle before politics.
Mr. President, it is 3AM. Answer the phone.
Frank Ryan, CPA, a retired colonel in the Marine Corps Reserves, specializes in corporate restructuring and lectures on ethics for the state CPA societies. He is on numerous humanitarian boards and corporate boards of directors.