Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Measure Of A Leader

“A short time ago, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States and his new administration officially came to life. One of the first changes is the White House's new website, which will serve as a place for the President and his administration to connect with the rest of the nation and the world.”

This quote from the introduction to WhiteHouse.gov, a media-savvy (and I don’t mean that cynically) interface built on the three priorities of communication, transparency, and participation. It looks great, and the content is impressive too. And, as the policies of White House administrations have a bearing on all our lives, it’s one to put in the RSS feeder.

One of the interesting features of the site is a potted history of the forty-three men (Grover Cleveland was President numbers 22 and 24 – the only man to hold non-consecutive terms in office) who have served as President.

It strikes me afresh that you can learn a lot about the measure of a leader by what he, or she, has to say about another leader; especially if they have very different visions for the future and what it might take to build it.

And I am really impressed by the account of President George W Bush.

Some caveats:
I doubt that Barack Obama himself compiled these histories – but I’m confident that he had the editorial final say;
I’m sure he is too smart to be petty on his big day – and smart enough to know that, in taking on The Most Impossible Job In The World, you would be wise to go easy on the last guy to fail trying;
I also know that part of the role of these histories is to paint a picture of the office of President as one who serves selflessly and impartially, to the best of their ability and in their best understanding of what is the right course of action in any given situation, the people and their constitution. In other words, there is an element of myth-building here – but it is a bipartisan myth that will play a healing role from this National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation, onward.

But, George W Bush ends his term deeply unpopular at home; and having made decisions that have, undeniably, significantly damaged America’s reputation throughout the rest of the world. It could not be easier to question his character, or his motives, or his ability. And yet the public record of this man by his successors is a generous testimony. It chooses to point to his strengths, not his weaknesses; his successes, not his failures; and paints the picture of a man of integrity, whose policies flowed from his beliefs.

And I am given cause to reflect on how I speak of others.

Lord Jesus Christ,
who confronts us with our need of forgiveness,
and the call to love both enemy and neighbour:
in your mercy,
forgive us those times our thoughts, words or actions would have character-assassinated Presidents Bush and Obama;
and forgive them their many and inevitable fallings-short of the Father’s will;
that together we may come to experience
his kingdom come in greater measure.

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