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Leadership and the Interregnum

I hope someday an historian writes a book called The Interregnum that looks at the period between the election and inauguration of Barack Obama. Not since the Cuban Missile Crisis had us huddled waiting for events to resolve have I had such a palpable sense of history. But now, instead of parsing every car horn as the start of a nuclear siren, I am ready for hope.

The stew of emotions is rich.

Hope itself is encompassing. It isn’t even an emotion. It’s a full-body experience, including cognition, anticipation, dedication, and spirit. In this case, hope is social. It’s not me trusting looking into the eyes of my Maker. It’s us relying on us.

Then there’s patriotism. I’ve always been more interested in the reasons that justify patriotism than in patriotism itself. But now I’m proud of how we are responding to this person we improbably elected.

There’s fear. I want my children to have the same opportunities I’ve been privileged to have. That is far from guaranteed. It isn’t even likely.

But The Interregnum will make for compelling reading most of all because it is the story of two people who could not be more different as people and as leaders.

Although I’ve been furious at President Bush for years, I had no idea I’ve actually been holding some back. I didn’t think I had any more to give. But then George Bush began his round of farewells.

Whatever someone says s/he is is exactly what that person is not. If your boss says, “I’m all about honesty,” then your boss is a liar. “For me, accountability is the main thing” means your boss is a swindler.

Bush told us he is all about compassion.

As Bush has put forward his self-explanation and justification in this past week, it’s become clear how incapable he is of seeing things from someone else’s point of view. With millions of refugees created in Iraq, he says his mistake was in posing in front of that “Mission Accomplished” sign. In the face of Katrina’s refugees, Bush thinks his mistake was not arriving on scene for his photo opp earlier. As Jon Stewart said, “You have no idea why people are angry at you, do you?”

I don’t think this is due to narcissism on Bush’s part. I think it’s part and parcel of his lack of intellectual curiosity. He’s a tiny man on a vast stage who simply can’t think past himself and what he sees at the moment. It doesn’t matter how large the stage becomes, his tiny circle of light never expands.

Bush provides us with the final and perfect exemplar of how our American idea of leadership, in politics and business, has gone wrong. We’ve taken leadership as a personality trait. Bush thinks he’s a leader because he made unpopular decisions and stuck by them. Leadership to him is a matter of character. If that’s all leadership is, then we’re better off without leaders — people empty of anything except a random resolve to do something and then keep doing it.

What’s missing is the idea that leaders need to be responsive to the reality of the world, the reality of the conflicting needs of the led, and the reality of suffering. Leaders may sometimes need to draw a clear line, but they must always recognize that the simplicity some decisions require masks an awful complexity.

In the interregnum, Bush has revealed himself as a buffoon blind to the tragedy he has hosted, while Obama has been showing us what leadership is about by bringing us to what is best in ourselves — as individuals, and, most of all, together.

I am ready for release from the shame and anger of the Bush years. I am so ready for the interregnum to end. [Tags: ]

6 Responses to “Leadership and the Interregnum”

  1. Well, that sure sounds optimistic, sir.

    He is a representative of the small, regional interest as opposed to the cosmopolitan interest. This is it.

    And yes, he is indeed rather small as a human being.

    The myth is that the conservatives are in general a force. Actually, conservatives are not on top, in the real way — the real sense. Really they are way on the bottom. Obama has a big job. He has a big job in front of him. Probably impossible.

  2. It’s hard to find any love in my heart for bastard Bush League and his cronies. But even though I voted for Obama and the hope that I’ve been wrong about the nature of politics, I’m thinking that the mountain may be too high for any mortal man to climb and that the bastards will have “No Drama” Obama playing Hamlet before the end of his first term in office.

  3. “I am ready for release from the shame and anger of the Bush years.”

    This speaks for you, me, most of our fellow countrymen and much of the world. It has been a very long and troubling nightmare. Even if economic and environmental conditions worsen, as is likely, we have a leader who understands that we are all in this together. There is solace to our weary spirit for that alone.

  4. You place way, way too much stock in Obama – he’s a politician (a product of an urban machine, no less) – not a savior. Meanwhile, the single worst thing that’s happened over the last 8 years took place in the last 2 weeks, with the agreement of Congress:

    After Congress said “no” to the auto bailout, the Administration (with the cheers of a majority of the Senate) said that they would spend the money anyway, never mind what the Congress said.

    So that’s it for the last major power of the legislature – they’ve ceded the spending power. Obama isn’t going to hand that power back; unless we get a Calvin Coolidge clone, no President will. We now live in the first stages of post-republic America. Whether Obama is a good or bad leader is not terribly relevant; there were good Emperors during the imperial Roman epoch as well. The problem is that we will eventually have a bad leader, and Congress has ceded the entirety of their power over to the Executive. Whether you want to deal with it or not, the Congress is now the same as the old Imperial Roman Senate. Lots of pontificating, and plenty of fine living. Real power? Not so much.

  5. I look forward to the extension of the grass root policy outside of you borders

    a global bottom up policy

    that s what we need and what we are ready for

  6. Electoral democracy creates dufuses and demagogues. Neither govern well.

    But royalty gets inbred. Juntas and dictators get crazy believing their own press. Religious leaders get dogmatic. Anarchists just don’t care. Libertarians think everyone is honest.

    Is there no Ultimate Thule?

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