Before offering critique of current political scandals, I need to qualify my viewpoint with a bit of perspective.
On a relatively small-scale, I know what it’s like to be a public leader. As senior pastor of what is considered a large church (on the lower end of the scale); a correspondent for our Sunday Newspaper (readership of over 200,000) and producer of daily and weekend radio (WJTL, 90.3 FM), I’ve had my share of praise and criticism. I realize that it’s not easy to be a public figure.
I cannot imagine what it’s like to be at the top of public figures. It’s certainly not the cake walk that some might naively imagine. The personal, emotional, intellectual and social strain that comes with highly visible leadership is often more than any human can endure. On my small-scale of Church leadership, I often find myself asking the question raised by the apostle Paul, “Who is equal to such a task?” (II Corinthians 2:16).
I also understand that leaders cannot reveal everything necessary to make every critic satisfied with their performance. Transparency is important but not always as possible as we might like – especially when national security is involved.
All of this makes me reticent to jump to conclusions that condemn leaders for scandals. It’s important to make sure that the facts are sufficiently gathered before making judgments. Sometimes this requires a degree of patience on the part of those who are suspicious. There are also times when leaders (out of respect for processes and procedures) cannot give all the information people desire.
The tricky balance to this is how to be an effective leader among those who cherish their freedom to scrutinize your every word and action. How can we the people exercise this freedom without creating an environment of suspicion and distrust that makes it unnecessarily burdensome for our leaders? There are no easy answers.
One thing, however, that goes with executive or senior leadership is the willingness to take responsibility for more than you’re sometimes directly responsible for. The old “Buck stops here” mantra is part of the work of top-level leadership. Generally, people appreciate a leader who clearly accepts this charge — even if they disagree with him or believe he is in the wrong. But when “in the wrong” involves violations of law, things get murky.
This leads me to some current thoughts about the scandals now plaguing the Obama Administration. On one level, I am incredulous about the ignorance being claimed by the President and high-ranking officials under him. I’ve found myself asking, “Who do you take us for?” If they were that much out of the loop on crucial issues, why? Either someone under them is not doing his or her job or there are serious issues of neglect and carelessness in governing. No matter my political affiliation, as one grateful for our Country, I don’t like what were seeing.
Over at The Wall Street Journal, Peggy Noonan is not far off in suggesting that,
“We are in the midst of the worst Washington scandal since Watergate. The reputation of the Obama White House has, among conservatives, gone from sketchy to sinister, and, among liberals, from unsatisfying to dangerous. No one likes what they’re seeing. The Justice Department assault on the Associated Press and the ugly politicization of the Internal Revenue Service have left the administration’s credibility deeply, probably irretrievably damaged. They don’t look jerky now, they look dirty. The patina of high-mindedness the president enjoyed is gone.”
In her WSJ column, Kimberley Strassel was more explicit about the IRS scandal:
“Was the White House involved in the IRS’s targeting of conservatives? No investigation needed to answer that one. Of course it was.
President Obama and Co. are in full deniability mode, noting that the IRS is an ‘independent’ agency and that they knew nothing about its abuse. The media and Congress are sleuthing for some hint that Mr. Obama picked up the phone and sicced the tax dogs on his enemies.
But that’s not how things work in post-Watergate Washington. Mr. Obama didn’t need to pick up the phone. All he needed to do was exactly what he did do, in full view, for three years: Publicly suggest that conservative political groups were engaged in nefarious deeds; publicly call out by name political opponents whom he’d like to see harassed; and publicly have his party pressure the IRS to take action.
Mr. Obama now professes shock and outrage that bureaucrats at the IRS did exactly what the president of the United States said was the right and honorable thing to do.”
How could even the most objective observer argue against this point? As more information emerges, it becomes harder for defenders of the president to argue his case without risking serious embarrassment.
Noonan got it right:
“Something big has shifted. The standing of the administration has changed.
As always it comes down to trust. Do you trust the president’s answers when he’s pressed on an uncomfortable story? Do you trust his people to be sober and fair-minded as they go about their work? Do you trust the IRS and the Justice Department? You do not.”
The IRS scandal is particularly egregious and strains the credulity of a watching public. As Noonan wrote,
“All of these IRS actions took place in the years leading up to the 2012 election. They constitute the use of governmental power to intrude on the privacy and shackle the political freedom of American citizens. The purpose, obviously, was to overwhelm and intimidate—to kill the opposition, question by question and audit by audit.”
“It is not even remotely possible that all this was an accident, a mistake. Again, only conservative groups were targeted, not liberal. It is not even remotely possible that only one IRS office was involved. Lois Lerner, who oversees tax-exempt groups for the IRS, was the person who finally acknowledged, under pressure of a looming investigative report, some of what the IRS was doing. She told reporters the actions were the work of “frontline people” in Cincinnati. But other offices were involved, including Washington. It is not even remotely possible the actions were the work of just a few agents. This was more systemic. It was an operation. The word was out: Get the Democratic Party’s foes.”
While I am hopeful that we can get to the bottom of this scandal and clean up the act of the IRS, I take no delight in the way it damages the president because on a larger scale than political partisanship, I desire much more for our Country — at least in honor of those who sacrificed their lives for the freedoms we enjoy!
I realize that we don’t have all the facts but I am less and less encouraged about the possibility of information emerging that will distance this scandal from the highest places of leadership in our nation.
What an important time to pray for our leaders!