Commentary: Crisis of Leadership

No Great Stone Face-Yet

Given 07-Aug-10; 10 minutes

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Richard Ritenbaugh, focusing on two articles on leadership, came to the conclusion that real leadership is sadly lacking in Washington, while the real leaders seem to be emerging from the state governments. The current administration behaves more like narcissistic children, relying on focus groups and polls rather than principle. Currently, as Solomon has warned, our leaders behave like self-indulgent children, feasting in the morning, enjoying themselves and the perks of their office, ignoring the problems of the country or the needs of the electorate. Sadly, it does not seem that a leader with adult characteristics will appear on the horizon.



Two articles that I read this week struck me as both interesting and spot-on in their analysis of what is happening in the United States, particularly in the area of leadership. Both of these articles had leadership as their overall theme, and both essentially came to the same conclusion, although they put it in very different terms. Both of these op-ed pieces both came from the right side of the political spectrum, but neither approached it from an overtly partisan position. I think they were both trying to do their best to look at it objectively—what is going on with this country.

Both imply very plainly that real leadership is lacking in this country, and not only in the country, but on both sides of the political aisle. And it is true, neither party, neither the liberals nor the conservatives, have shown over the past few decades that they can tender a leader who is willing to do what needs to be done without counting all the political costs and keeping both eyes on the polls all the time. If the polls say they should or should not do that, or some sort of focus group likes or does not like a certain thing, that is the way they go. Instead, both sides have have given the American people weak, narcissistic politicians, not leaders. We have seen this in the last several Presidents who have not been willing to do the hard thing, the mature thing.

The first article that caught my eye was written by Rich Lowry of National Review Online, called “The Attack of the Adults.” Here is the teaser to the story: “If you want to find a grown-up in government, don’t look in the Oval Office or the Capitol. Look in the statehouses . . . .” Essentially, he is saying that all of our national leaders are being like immature children in the way they govern, and saying that the only leaders who are approaching the country’s problems are a small handful of governors who are willing to make and follow through on the hard decisions, like balancing budgets, staring down the unions and lobbies, and even taking on the federal government when necessary. These men (and women) are leaders. They are not just politicians, although they are politicians too. They tend to be problem solvers, mature people who want to right wrongs and help everyone toward well-being and prosperity.

The second article came from the pen of Victor Davis Hanson, also on National Review Online. It has a more enigmatic title, “Obama: Not the Great Stone Face.” He explains it in his first paragraph:

In 1850 Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote an allegory about a series of small-town would-be heroes who the gullible public claimed resembled the Great Stone Face on the side of a New Hampshire mountain. The citizens assumed that these men would have a granite-like ability to stand firm against whatever dangers the people faced. (“About this time there went a rumor throughout the valley, that the great man, foretold from ages long ago, who was to bear a resemblance to the Great Stone Face, had appeared at last.”) The most confident and charismatic of these quick-fix characters—Mr. Gathergold, Old Blood-and-Thunder, and Old Stony Phiz—always in the end proved failures, as the people finally learned that they did not have the qualities they ascribed to the face on [the] mountain.

How does Victor Davis Hanson see this as a parallel to today?

There is a growing desperation among politicians that the populace perceives them as pretty much alike—alike in the sense of not being appealing. In Obama’s case, the charge is doubly serious, because he made extravagant claims that our first community organizer and our first African-American to become president—and our most purely liberal president in a generation—would be different, as in bringing a new humility and competence to the office.

Instead, over half the electorate sees only hypocrisy.

Yet, rather than provide an example of a real leader who is showing that our national problems can be overcome, Victor Davis Hanson can only offer us the same thing Obama did: hope—because there is really no one on the horizon who fits the bill. He cannot think of anyone that has this humility and competence to fill the office and solve our problems. So what does he say? This is the conclusion of his article:

So we, the American public, have become something like the anxious townspeople of [Nathaniel] Hawthorne’s morality tale. We keep claiming that our next national leader is some sort of monumental icon who will magically solve our crises, only to learn that in the flesh he turns out not to be the Great Stone Face on the mountain at all. . . .

In the end, if we are lucky, we will end up with a workmanlike candidate similar to the Ernest of Hawthorne’s short story, someone nondescript from the community, someone like the rest of America, who through humility and competence avoids the vanity of high office, balances budgets, wins wars, cuts spending, restores American confidence, finesses the partisan rancor, and restores our global stature and competitiveness—and slowly grows to resemble the visage on the side of the mountain.

I would like you to turn, if you have your Bible handy, to Ecclesiastes 10. We have already gone in some of these commentaries to Isaiah 3:4-12, which talks about God giving us children as our oppressors, and women ruling over us. This is very similar, from the pen of Solomon:

Ecclesiastes 10:16-17 “Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child, and your princes feast in the morning! Blessed are you, O land, when your king is the son of nobles, and your princes feast at the proper time—for strength and not for drunkenness!”

This also fits in with my introductory comments on the spending that is being done—these feasts and expensive travels. Unfortunately, our leaders are children—children spiritually, for one thing and most importantly. Not in age, though Obama just had his 49th birthday. That's not a child; that's not young. He should have learned a great deal more, before this time. But he acts like a child, and frankly, so do most of our national leaders. Nancy Pelosi acts like a child, even though she is 70 years old, ranting and raving, basically on the floor, pounding, wanting what she wants to get, doing whatever she needs to do to get it, just like a spoiled child throwing a temper tantrum.

Our leaders, too, are feasting in the morning. In other words, making themselves fat. They are getting things for themselves, enjoying themselves and all the perks of their offices, without doing what the Bible says here, and that is feasting for strength. That is, doing what must be done to grow in strength, and then use that strength to go out and do what is right: tackle our problems with humility and strength.

We should pray that God supplies this country with leadership. But I am skeptical that an American of this caliber will stand up on his own, and I don't think the time is right for God to allow him to stand up.