Welcome Back to America, Mr. President

So, the Republicans win big across the United States – regaining control of the U.S. Senate, adding seats in the U.S. House, capturing new governorships, preserving old ones, and winning countless (or at least uncounted) dog-catcher posts. Why? Because the nation finally realized (as many polls confirm) that “the country is on the wrong track,” and properly blamed the first uncompromisingly liberal president from leading us down this dead-end alley.

Now comes President Obama’s November 5th press conference. Members of both parties, and even the White House Press Corps, scratch their heads. As if living in some alternate universe, the president seems to run away from the referendum on himself, rejecting the national repudiation as a misunderstanding, indicating his message never got out, blaming everyone except himself.

More than this, he remains locked on the failed track that brought him -- and us -- to this bizarre impasse in national policy -- instead of recognizing that Americans do not want higher taxes, a weak defense, more federal control over their lives, higher healthcare premiums and reduced coverage, and lack of accountability from the Department of Veterans Affairs to the Internal Revenue Service, from the State Department to the Pentagon, from the NSA to the DOJ to the EPA, he just plowed on as if no one had corrected him.

Instead of recognizing the public’s revulsion from high-handed executive orders, open borders and the cheapening of American residency and citizenship, indifference to drug crime and racial division, he doubled, then tripled down. His press conference and all utterances since have made him seem not just tone deaf, but pathologically deaf. So much so that, far from expecting compromise, many officials in and out of government, along with Americans from across the country, party lines, and professions, wonder what is going on.

The question led me to two sources, one the Harvard Business Review (HBR), and the other, history. Here is my read:  the HBR had a recent article, written by a former CEO, saying that many executive leaders -- although not presidents -- suffer from a mental condition called “cognitive dissonance,” in effect denial of reality because it is too painful. This led to a spate of CEO firings -- so the article says -- from 2008 forward. Right or wrong, the notion is appealing as a way to explain Obama.

While we cannot fire him, he seems awash in symptoms, which include: delicate ego, defensiveness, preoccupation with blaming others, endless efforts to justify beliefs not supported by facts, inability to properly discern what has happened in the context of what they believe, weak adaptive skills, and an unwillingness to accept reality. Succinctly, HBR suggests that “cognitive dissonance” is dangerous to a company’s future, since the CEO becomes unable to see that he must “change his mind” and “unwind bad business moves.” How much harder, then, when it is a country, not a company? Solution: remind the CEO that they work for someone, and thus have to change their mind, even if that involves rethinking roles, limits and beliefs. Needless to say, many CEOs get fired because they will not do that.

Now, the history part. Perhaps the most instructive lesson from history comes from, of all places, the former Soviet Union -- the famous “two letters.” When Nikita Khrushchev departed, he left two envelopes for his successor, Leonid Brezhnev. Khrushchev also left a note, which read: “To my successor:  when you find yourself in a hopeless situation which you cannot escape, open the first letter, and it will save you. Later, if you again find yourself in a hopeless situation… open the second letter.” When the inevitable first occasion arose, Brezhnev opened the first envelope. The letter read: “Blame it all on me.” Brezhnev did and it worked, for a time. When the second situation arose, Brezhnev opened the second envelope. It read: “Sit down and write two letters.” True or not, this account comes from the Khrushchev tapes.

So, Mr. Obama, when the 2010 midterm rout occurred, you opened the first envelope -- and blamed everything on prior Republican leadership. You have now come to your second envelope. While impeachment is unlikely and America does not enjoy the “vote of no confidence,” as some of our remaining allies do, there is a choice.

Mr. President, you can either remain “cognitively dissonant” and hope no one notices, or you can think hard -- harder than you did for that press conference -- and come to grips with a difficult, but true fact:  our country has turned away from you, away from your vision of expanded government and dubious “progressivism”, away from the “transformative” politics of terminal agitation, away from racial division for political gain, away from ceaseless buck-passing blame, and away from insincere and non-substantive rhetoric. We are on track again for coherent economic and foreign policy, enhanced national security, more opportunity for small businesses (which generate 80 percent jobs), better protection of sovereign borders, and dignity for all Americans.

We are on this new track because we are One People, not a thousand different peoples, as you wish to believe -- or wish for us to believe. So, think hard. You can either turn with us, toward that America which most know, love, and want back -- or you can wander off into the twilight of your own world. The good news is this:  If you come with us, you will be part of an America that is proud of who we are, all of us, a Democracy, not a government bent on “cognitive dissonance,” rife with preemptive executive orders, lost in a swirl of perfidy, deception, and denial. America is still here. Come join us.

Robert B. Charles was Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former teacher at the Harvard University Extension School, and is a Washington DC-based consultant.

So, the Republicans win big across the United States – regaining control of the U.S. Senate, adding seats in the U.S. House, capturing new governorships, preserving old ones, and winning countless (or at least uncounted) dog-catcher posts. Why? Because the nation finally realized (as many polls confirm) that “the country is on the wrong track,” and properly blamed the first uncompromisingly liberal president from leading us down this dead-end alley.

Now comes President Obama’s November 5th press conference. Members of both parties, and even the White House Press Corps, scratch their heads. As if living in some alternate universe, the president seems to run away from the referendum on himself, rejecting the national repudiation as a misunderstanding, indicating his message never got out, blaming everyone except himself.

More than this, he remains locked on the failed track that brought him -- and us -- to this bizarre impasse in national policy -- instead of recognizing that Americans do not want higher taxes, a weak defense, more federal control over their lives, higher healthcare premiums and reduced coverage, and lack of accountability from the Department of Veterans Affairs to the Internal Revenue Service, from the State Department to the Pentagon, from the NSA to the DOJ to the EPA, he just plowed on as if no one had corrected him.

Instead of recognizing the public’s revulsion from high-handed executive orders, open borders and the cheapening of American residency and citizenship, indifference to drug crime and racial division, he doubled, then tripled down. His press conference and all utterances since have made him seem not just tone deaf, but pathologically deaf. So much so that, far from expecting compromise, many officials in and out of government, along with Americans from across the country, party lines, and professions, wonder what is going on.

The question led me to two sources, one the Harvard Business Review (HBR), and the other, history. Here is my read:  the HBR had a recent article, written by a former CEO, saying that many executive leaders -- although not presidents -- suffer from a mental condition called “cognitive dissonance,” in effect denial of reality because it is too painful. This led to a spate of CEO firings -- so the article says -- from 2008 forward. Right or wrong, the notion is appealing as a way to explain Obama.

While we cannot fire him, he seems awash in symptoms, which include: delicate ego, defensiveness, preoccupation with blaming others, endless efforts to justify beliefs not supported by facts, inability to properly discern what has happened in the context of what they believe, weak adaptive skills, and an unwillingness to accept reality. Succinctly, HBR suggests that “cognitive dissonance” is dangerous to a company’s future, since the CEO becomes unable to see that he must “change his mind” and “unwind bad business moves.” How much harder, then, when it is a country, not a company? Solution: remind the CEO that they work for someone, and thus have to change their mind, even if that involves rethinking roles, limits and beliefs. Needless to say, many CEOs get fired because they will not do that.

Now, the history part. Perhaps the most instructive lesson from history comes from, of all places, the former Soviet Union -- the famous “two letters.” When Nikita Khrushchev departed, he left two envelopes for his successor, Leonid Brezhnev. Khrushchev also left a note, which read: “To my successor:  when you find yourself in a hopeless situation which you cannot escape, open the first letter, and it will save you. Later, if you again find yourself in a hopeless situation… open the second letter.” When the inevitable first occasion arose, Brezhnev opened the first envelope. The letter read: “Blame it all on me.” Brezhnev did and it worked, for a time. When the second situation arose, Brezhnev opened the second envelope. It read: “Sit down and write two letters.” True or not, this account comes from the Khrushchev tapes.

So, Mr. Obama, when the 2010 midterm rout occurred, you opened the first envelope -- and blamed everything on prior Republican leadership. You have now come to your second envelope. While impeachment is unlikely and America does not enjoy the “vote of no confidence,” as some of our remaining allies do, there is a choice.

Mr. President, you can either remain “cognitively dissonant” and hope no one notices, or you can think hard -- harder than you did for that press conference -- and come to grips with a difficult, but true fact:  our country has turned away from you, away from your vision of expanded government and dubious “progressivism”, away from the “transformative” politics of terminal agitation, away from racial division for political gain, away from ceaseless buck-passing blame, and away from insincere and non-substantive rhetoric. We are on track again for coherent economic and foreign policy, enhanced national security, more opportunity for small businesses (which generate 80 percent jobs), better protection of sovereign borders, and dignity for all Americans.

We are on this new track because we are One People, not a thousand different peoples, as you wish to believe -- or wish for us to believe. So, think hard. You can either turn with us, toward that America which most know, love, and want back -- or you can wander off into the twilight of your own world. The good news is this:  If you come with us, you will be part of an America that is proud of who we are, all of us, a Democracy, not a government bent on “cognitive dissonance,” rife with preemptive executive orders, lost in a swirl of perfidy, deception, and denial. America is still here. Come join us.

Robert B. Charles was Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former teacher at the Harvard University Extension School, and is a Washington DC-based consultant.