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Would an Obama Win Make Mitch McConnell a Failure?

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky addresses the Republican National Convention during the nomination process for Paul Ryan in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2012.

Last night's "60 Minutes" saw Steve Kroft do something unprecedented: he conducted the first joint interview with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). Kroft, seeking to find common ground between the two men, found the interview to be an icy affair, commenting that neither man looked at the other during the interview and disingenuously referred to his counterpart as "my friend" throughout. For Kroft, the two represent the problems of the 112th Congress as a whole--dysfunction driven by tremendous failures of leadership and given life by a palpable lack of trust felt on all sides. 

Perhaps nothing crystallized that distrust more than the notorious goal set by McConnell just prior to the 2010 midterm elections. On Oct. 23, 2010, McConnell told the following to the National Journal:

McConnell: We need to be honest with the public. This election is about them, not us. And we need to treat this election as the first step in retaking the government. We need to say to everyone on Election Day, “Those of you who helped make this a good day, you need to go out and help us finish the job.”

NJ: What’s the job?

McConnell: The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.

For managers, and leaders everywhere, goals are important. The goals we set are the metric by which we measure our own success. More importantly, when we state our goals publicly we expect to be held to account—judged and rewarded by the vision we set and our persistence in making it reality. As a leader, McConnell set his goal on a singular accomplishment: stopping President Obama from winning a second term. Whether you agree with him or not, unseating a sitting president is a lofty goal. And now, with Election Day upon us, McConnell is about to achieve that goal--or fall short, and do so publicly.

The question is ultimately about the nature, and purpose, of leadership. Should a leader, such as McConnell, be assessed solely on his ability to accomplish that which he said or should he be admired for his ambition, even if he falls short? More importantly, what of the goal itself?

It's rare these days we look to Congress for leadership lessons. If "60 Minutes" showed us anything last night, it's that we shouldn't start anytime soon. Yet men like McConnell and Reid bear the responsibilities of leadership, if in no other way than their titles.

Former Senator Alan Simpson (R-Wyo.) summed up their failure of leadership best during a recent panel discussion:

"The word compromise now means you're a wimp...and let me tell ya, if you can't learn to compromise an issue without compromising yourself you should never be in any legislative body and furthermore you should never be married."

Revisiting McConnell's goal on the eve of the election, I pose this question: If Obama loses, is McConnell a success? If Obama wins, is McConnell a loser? Or are we all losers, victims of an intransigence that shows no signs, regardless of tomorrow's outcome, of letting up soon?

We’re about to find out.

Watch McConnell and Reid's joint "60 Minutes" interview:

Watch McConnell’s reiteration of his remark:

What do you think? What fundamental elements of leadership is Congress lacking today? Would a second term President Obama or first term President Romney be able to make it better?

Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

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