prev next

Salena Zito


Obama Puts Politics Ahead of Leadership

by Salena Zito
 

HARMONY, Pa.

Sometimes a village's name fits its surroundings perfectly.

You have to wonder if this village's frontier founders saw the untouched forest and felt a sense of accord. Or did the village embrace the name by reflecting its definition?

The reality is less whimsical than that: Founded by the Harmonists, a religious group that was persecuted when it broke with Germany's Lutheran Church in the late 18th century, this village was the first of three to be named by the sect.

In its day it was incredibly prosperous, wealthy, and industrious. Unfortunately, thanks to a vow of celibacy, the sect died off – but not without leaving a living trace of a virtuous ambition that had a significant hand in Western Pennsylvania's prosperity at the start of the Industrial Age.

Harmony, by definition, is fellowship, cooperation, consensus, unity, sympathy. In short, it is the exact opposite of how President Obama behaved after the recent terror attacks in Beirut and Paris that murdered hundreds of people going about their daily lives.

Leadership by definition is guidance, direction, inspiration, motivation. And, at a moment when our nation felt most vulnerable and needed reassurance that the man in control was looking out for our welfare, we found ourselves irrevocably disappointed.

Americans wanted sober, serious and authoritative. What they got was prickly and tone deaf.

A president's most important job is to keep the nation safe; that includes how he communicates security. Last Monday when the country needed him to put aside politics, along with any defensiveness he may feel about his policies, he failed.

Pressured by reporters about his strategy for fighting ISIS, his ill-tempered response offered no direct answer. Instead, he sharply rebuked his critics before doubling down on his tepid, ever-changing policy for taking on the terror group.

Here is what the media missed when the conversation then veered toward whether it was wise to accept Syrian refugees into the United States if one tied to ISIS might sneak through security screenings.

People who want the government to slow down on accepting refugees do not believe most Syrian refugees are terrorists – but they do think the possibility exists that some might be.

When you fail to be a leader in times of turmoil, the reaction is equal and opposite to the vacuum you created; in this case, Obama, with his public tantrum, pushed people to demand some control over the perceived safety imbalance.

What was his reaction to people's fears?

He released the hounds – his base – by attacking worried U.S. governors while on foreign soil, describing as "offensive" those who called for a temporary halt to refugees and ridiculing them for fearing "widows and orphans." That prompted his supporters to recite the famous inscription on the Statue of Liberty that beckons the world's weary migrants to our shores.

And, once again, Americans were pitted against each other unnecessarily.

This struggle – between wanting to be assured that all security measures are exhausted when screening refugees and keeping our values by accepting those in distress – is complicated. Few among us, looking at families torn from their hometowns by war and poverty, are not moved by their plight, especially if we contemplate how we would feel in that position.

But we also are wary of the federal government's incompetency; our distrust, as well as the void in national leadership, have unsettled us.

The majority of Ameri­cans are not behind Obama's plan to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the United States, according to Bloomberg and NBC News polls conducted last week. The fear felt by Americans crosses both parties, and it is not unreasonable. In such a time of crisis or doubt, a president's purpose is to calm our fears, not to put on a professorial hat and declare, "I am right and you are wrong."

The fact is, Obama will never change; anytime he is backed into a corner, he not only puts on that professor's hat but he also blames whatever problem exists on Congress and, inevitably, divides the country still further.

That is not leadership – but it sure is politics.

As a nation, we are all tired of lacking the former and stoking the latter.

Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media (szito@tribweb.com).


Share   Share

Featured Columnists
Featured Audio Links