Government Ignores the 'Pings' at Its Own Peril

Political leaders tone deaf to voters' signaling for leadership.

APRIL 15, 2014— -- In my most recent column, I talked about listening for the "ping," or voice in our personal lives. Looking past what we think is on the surface, and trying to find the truth deep down.

The same could be said for our political leadership. Letting go of our surface preconceptions, getting past the myths or old ways, and trying to discover the truth deep beneath the surface.

Let us review some of the political topics that have been in the news of late and maybe try and listen for some "pings" that might give us some direction to a broader truth.

There has been much discussion about income inequality and executive salaries, as well as raising the minimum wage. Each partisan side lines up with its talking points and seemingly refuses to try and listen in a deeper way.

The truth is that there seems to be no relationship between either the CEO pay level or folks at the lower-income levels of society (and one could argue at middle-class levels, as well) and compensation and productivity. There is no broad link between what any one gets paid and the actual productivity involved.

Studies have shown that, on average, if the minimum wage had kept pace with productivity gains, it would be roughly $18 an hour. Nearly all the gains from increased productivity through technology and average employees have ended up in either higher levels of executive pay or gains on Wall Street.

Further, analysis has shown that the pay of CEOs and high-level executives has no real link to productivity or performance. There is no relationship between their pay and profitability, or employee hiring, or increased compensation for the broad base of workers. Boards and CEOs basically decide among themselves what they should be paid, and the compensation comparison is usually made to other CEOs’ pay and not profitability or performance.

It seems the goal of many corporate executives is to get away with paying themselves as much as possible, and low- and middle-income workers as little as possible. And Wall Street seems, unfortunately, to reward this strategy.

Also, if leaders paid attention to the pings of the majority of the country, they would give more than lip service to trying to get past the incredibly divisive partisanship that exists in politics today. I have seen leaders on both sides, including our president, talk about how the partisanship is hurting the country, and then they turn around and engage in partisanship by only backing one party or the other in policy and elections.

Voters want our politics to be performance and productivity based, but again it seems our leaders just seem to reward themselves in the process and try to get away with as much partisanship as possible. And voters keep pinging our political leaders by voting out one side or the other in nearly every election to try to get them to turn away from partisanship and toward performance. So far leaders of both political parties are ignoring the pings, and this has caused a dramatic rise in the number of independent voters in the country.

Partisans point the finger at the other side, saying the bitter partisanship is the other side’s fault. And rationalize that they can't "unilaterally disarm" so they need to keep engaging in a partisan way and fight the fight. To me, partisanship is a lot like war: the only way to stop either is for one side to lay down its arms and say enough is enough.

And we also should look at our tax and budget policies in a way that seeks the truth. Today, a huge part of the tax code doesn't reward performance and productivity. It isn't set up to give average workers an edge, but rather it rewards the stagnancy of held wealth and even nonperforming capital.

Further, our government budgets are not judged on performance either. We should have a system that systematically dismantles programs that are inefficient and underperforming. Government agencies should be judged on their performance and not on their politics. This is true in social programs as well as defense and foreign aid.

So while we listen to the pings in our own life and where our heart wants to take us, let us also push our leaders to listen to the pings of the country at large. And raise our voices in a way that they can't ignore the leadership we are demanding. And we should reward performance at every level, and not partisanship.

There you have it. Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of ABC News.