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A CEO’s message to Washington: Put the nation's interests before your own

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“I've never seen a time when there's been more zero-sum game mentality in the United States among political parties," says Robert Johnson, CEO of the BET television network who was born in Mississippi and became the first African American billionaire. "If you were a businessperson looking at this and you saw two people arguing like that — you would say ‘I don't want to do business with any of those guys.’ And you'd go off looking for somebody else who you want to do business with."

Ho-hum. Is anybody surprised that the “Super Committee” on debt reduction failed in its charge to come up with a plan for resolving the nation’s astronomical debt?

Three months of partisan posturing and zilch to show for it. Now, we’ll endure months more of each side playing the blame game and issuing grim warnings about the automatic cuts that will supposedly be triggered in 2013 (as if anyone actually believes that will happen).

As the TV talking heads were yammering about the committee’s failure, my wife muttered: “They could’ve picked 12 housewives at random from across the country and they’d have worked out a spending plan with time to spare.”

She’s probably right. It’s a sad commentary on the state of government that we’ve got some of the country’s (supposedly) best and brightest minds in the Congress and administration and they seem to be able to do little more than snipe at each other and sulk because they can’t have things their way, rather than sitting down and working together to solve the nation’s problems. Little wonder that Congress’ approval rating has slid into the single digits.

An interesting series of commentaries on government has been done by Scott Pelley of CBS News, featuring CEOs of major corporations. One was Robert Johnson, who was born in rural small town Hickory, Miss., the ninth of 10 children. He went on to found the BET television network and many other successful businesses, in the process becoming the first African American billionaire. Here are excerpts from that interview:

“I've been in business for over 30 years,” Johnson told Pelley. “I've never seen a time when there's been more zero-sum game mentality in the United States among political parties. If you were a businessperson looking at this and you saw two people arguing like that — you would say ‘I don't want to do business with any of those guys.’ And you'd go off looking for somebody else who you want to do business with.

“…Unfortunately now, I don't think we have the leadership either in the White House or the Congress to end (this) zero-sum game mentality toward the U.S. economy. And until both parties agree that the goal is to rebuild the American economy to reflect the 21st century in a global environment — we're going to be stuck.”

Asked by Pelley what advice he would give to those in power in Washington, Johnson replied: “My message to Washington is, simply: Sacrifice your political job for the job that the American people want you to do. It's as simple as that. Be willing to be a one-term congressperson. Be willing to be a one-term president. Be willing to be a one-term senator. Take the position that the issues before the country are far greater than me returning to Washington and starting the same old treadmill over again.”

To which one can only add: Amen!

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