Ironically, the day after the Washington Post published an article about President Obama’s failures as a leader, it praised the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI as a true act of leadership that gave way to Pope Francis. Their conclusion: “sometimes the most meaningful way to lead is to know when it’s time to leave.”
While the newspaper and many other critics of the US President rightly point out that “the poor messaging, the lack of commitment to strong, effective government, and the president’s aversion to treating the problem with an aggressiveness that equaled its magnitude” have undermined the president’s authority, it would hardly be considered an act of leadership if the President of the United States simply walked away from his job. To be clear, the Washington Post did not suggest that the President should resign amidst doubts about his leadership, but the proximity of the two articles and an ongoing debate about a crisis in Washington does suggest a loss of faith in the president and his ability to govern.
Leadership is not and never should be just about charisma and the bully pulpit. If that were the case, the chances for Chris Christie in 2016 are still pretty good. It should also be about the issues. For those of us who believe that Obama can and should do more to fulfill the spirit of his 2008 election there is still (fading) hope, but only if the nation at large finally gets behind him. Good and effective leaders, after all, need a congregation ready and willing to follow.
As it is written in St. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews 13:17,
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
To the faithful freedom fighters that may sound heretical, but unlike the papacy, governing in a democracy is as much about the system of government as it is about the person who governs. People are elected with an open and well debated agenda and elections are supposed to matter. Unfortunately, gerrymandered congressional districts and a fractious, belligerent political arena too often stands in the way of change as populist forces can just wait out their opponents from their save havens of political combat. It’s as if the preacher had to put up with spitballs from the front pew with willing parishioners idly standing by.
The real virtue of the 86 year-old Pope Benedict – who as reported by the Washington Post admits that he no longer had the “strength of mind and body” for the job – was the courage and humility to let the Church move on when he could no longer keep up with it. President Obama, while no doubt tired and worn down after 5 years of public groaning, still has plenty of vigor left in him. It’s time for the public to stop bellyaching and focus their soul searching instead on what we can do to make things better until the next election. Then we can decide on a new course.