Why can't we have angry leaders -- people more like us? An Abraham Lincoln who would have said, "With malice toward them, with charity for us." A Mahatma Gandhi who demanded that his followers stop sitting around on "strike" and just kick Britain's bloody ass. A Nelson Mandela who, instead of calling for Truth and Reconciliation, declared that his people deserve revenge.
And now, a Barack Obama who can follow the example of our pop radio jocks -- and angrily condemn BP for its crimes, bureaucrats for their corruption, and the people for their cowardly call to "drill baby drill" no matter the cost.
Why the desire for an angry Obama? I can't agree with the folks on the left who want our President to match the vitriol of the angry right. I want a President with a steady hand, one whose passion simmers, driving him forward on his mission, but never explodes.
Anger is weakness masquerading as strength. It conveys conviction to the confused, clarity to the fearful. But it is the opposite -- a sign of fear, doubt, and insecurity. Just ask Dick Cheney, who used it profitably to mask the demons that chase him, and now his daughter.
Like the oil gushing forth in the Gulf, anger unleashed is destructive energy. No one who cherishes the American experiment, and wants it to continue, should hope for an angry President. A Michael Moore or a Rush Limbaugh in the White House would be a wholly destructive force, bringing about the opposite of what they claim to stand for.
Few have noticed, but Obama has already overused the anger card. The truth is, he does not do anger well -- it comes across as forced, counter to his instincts and nature, not genuine. Asking that he express more anger, to match our own, will only damage his effectiveness.
Anger is divisive. It appeals to the true believer, because it is a cheap and easy counterfeit for virtue. To condemn another is to seemingly position oneself on higher ground -- or so it feels at the time. But how many of us can point back with pride to those moments when we were most angry? How many of us can say now that our anger, in control of us, led us to do good?
Yes, anger can be helpful, to mobilize armies to hate and kill their adversaries, for example. But it is easy to manipulate the angry, and that is why, in politics, it has such potential for harm.
The power that Lincoln, Gandhi, Mandela, King and our greatest leaders wielded came not from their darker natures, but from their ability to transmute their anger into bold determination, guided by wisdom, as well as a keen sense of timing. The magnanimity they showed toward their enemies -- always in the face of criticism from their own closest allies, who wanted flesh -- was the source of their transcendent power.
Barack Obama will have a failed presidency if he follows the calls to be more emotional, more angry, more like us. He needs to go the other way. He needs to reject the right-wing calls for the Cheney-model "tough guy" to rant at Iran, and the left-wing desire for Michael Moore style demonization to rail at BP.
The President will be more powerful, and more effective, if he shows respect for those he must defend, as well as those he must defeat. He must tell BP -- calmly and coolly -- that their company is at fault for the Gulf spill, that its safety problems are systemic, and that he expects them to step forward and be adults, be responsible. If they do not, he can make clear to them the legal, economic, and political consequences -- and they alone will be responsible for the self-destruction of their company. If they rise to the level he demands of them, they will pay the price -- but earn the reward that comes with responsibility.
And the President must do the same with those in his party, and the opposition GOP, whose politicians are sacrificing the needs of the country for their own political gain. He must raise the standard of debate, not lower it, and make a higher demand: that a brave few within our two great political parties set aside their rhetoric and individual political interests, and respect the wisdom that underlies both the right and the left.
There is wisdom on both sides -- and interdependence. The compassion of the left, the political feminine, which tells us who we are and where we need to go. And the discipline of the right, the political masculine, which tells us how we can get there.
That call is genuine to Obama's nature, recalls his campaign-time message of hope, and articulates clearly the change that we really need.
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