President Barack Obama, announcing the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011:
I directed Leon Panetta, the director of the CIA, to make the killing or capture of bin Laden the top priority … even as I continued our broader effort … Then, after years of painstaking work by my intelligence community I was briefed … I met repeatedly with my national security team … And finally last week I determined that I had enough intelligence to take action … Today, at my direction…
Note the repeated use of a certain pronoun.
It was clear, even then, where the president believed credit for the success belonged. Not with the SEALs who carried out the mission, not with the admiral who may have been the one to actually make the call, not with the intelligence community that made the operation possible, but with himself. Michael Mukasey correctly notes the sharp contrast between Obama’s self-aggrandizing approach and the much humbler attitudes of previous presidents.
Mr. President, I’m sure you are a good man, with good intentions. When you swept to power on a wave of goodwill four years ago, I was cautiously optimistic, even though I disagreed with many of your ideas. You were not just another politician. You were different. You were better. You were the man who would remind us that leadership is independent of party affiliation. But, Mr. President, the longer you are in office, the more you have become just another politician, playing the same games, bending the same rules, giving the same empty speeches.
You should know better.
Mr. President, you played a role in the death of Osama bin Laden, but it was much smaller than you and your campaign have made it out to be. The lion’s share of the credit belongs elsewhere, and you (should) know it.
A true leader takes the blame and shares the credit; a politician does the reverse. We elected you in 2008 because you promised to be the former. Give credit where credit is due, Mr. President. Respect the limits of your authority. Be humble, as a leader should – because a worthy leader is what this country needs right now, more than tax reform or healthcare reform or whatever the hot-button topic of the moment happens to be. The root of our problems lies in our fragmented, poisoned culture, our hostile and divided political climate, our disillusionment with Washington and Wall Street and everything in between.
We need someone to lead us out of this mess – a leader whose message isn’t about this law or that law, but about healing a wounded nation. There is no higher priority, because without a cultural rebirth, Mr. President, trying to make policy is like building a house on sand: it won’t last. So we need a leader who can see past the issues of the moment, the easy talking points and political scoreboard, and begin by fixing the structural decay beneath. Whether that leader comes from the right, the left, or the center is, in my opinion, a minor detail.
The most important promise you made, Mr. President, was the promise of hope – of giving us something to believe in and rally around, of rising above and breaking out of our greasy, politicized rut – not just to govern or reform, but to do so with honor, transparency, accountability, honesty, humility. But if you break that promise, if you become just another part of this broken system, just another entry in the endless electoral horse race, then no matter what policies you enact or what reforms you pass, you will have failed us.
We have enough squabbling, posturing politicians, Mr. President. Don’t add to the problem.