With apologies to Clara Peller, “Where’s the Leader?”
Whether it’s Machiavelli suggesting that for a leader, it’s better to be feared than loved, or Leo Durocher asserting that “nice guys finish last,” there’s truth to the notion that it’s human nature that provokes folks to admire — and follow — those who take a stand, who battle for principle, who don’t take crap when it’s tossed into a fan facing them.
I’m among the last of those on earth who can locate much to admire about Ronald Reagan. But I can tell you when he won the nomination and the presidency: February 23, 1980, in Nashua, New Hampshire, during the state primary contest for the nomination, the moderator, a Mr. Green, over the controversy of making a pre-debate announcement, told the sound engineer to turn off Reagan’s microphone. At that, Reagan grabbed the microphone in both his hands, stood up and angrily said to the moderator, “Mr. Green, I’m paying for this microphone . . ..”
GOP vote-rigging and suppressing shenanigans aside, I can tell you the moment John Kerry lost his bid. Actually, it was no one moment, but a series of moments: He was being ruthlessly slandered by a coterie of neo-Nazi thugs who managed to add a new gerund to the American lexicon — “Swiftboating.” And Kerry shamefully let them get away with it. He sat on his hands and said not a thing in response.
Nor was it the wunderkind of Obama qua Obama that won the election last November. It was the sheer weight of John McCain’s total incompetence and arrogance, following eight excruciating years of Bush/GOP incompetence, arrogance, and disgraceful base corruption, and a collapsing economy. Far and away, it was the collapsing economy. Had the economy not tanked, had McCain not been so dizzyingly obtuse concerning everything from economic to constitutional principles, a Republican would be occupying the Oval Office today.
Recall how the press (What McCain called his “base”), the Fourth Estate our Founding Fathers — most particularly Jefferson — heralded as essential to a free people, failed utterly to investigate any aspect of the Arizona senator’s questionable past and questionable assertions and dubious qualifications, while concomitantly refusing to consider fairly the excoriations, and their context, of Reverend Wright, and kept them front and center for six unending weeks. Recall as well that millions of us wondered aloud and in print what the hell Obama was thinking and, more importantly, not doing and not saying, while he was being punked by the Right.
The presidency of the United States is not just a few steps distant from telling ghost stories to youngsters around a campfire. Promoting comity is one thing. For a president, it’s rarely — if ever — the most important thing. When one tries to be all things to all people, what one ends up with is being nothing to anyone. Moreover, when a so-called leader absolutely refuses to engage the Reagan moment, that leader sacrifices the appellation, “leader,” and dons that of tragic, and ultimately, despised patsy.
For a president, “feckless” is synonymous with “reckless,” and unassertive leadership presages a public’s presumption the “leader” is undeserving of the mantle of leadership. Since the Inauguration, the Obama administration has been most typified by its way too many moments of “I screwed up” incompetence. But those have not been near so damning as how it has quite willingly allowed itself to be the cellmate punk to the GOP’s gang of Bubbas. When an effete and completely nerdy Mitch McConnel and a wholly disgusting Eric Cantor can have their way with you, it’s unlikely you’re going to get your way on much of anything.