~photo courtesy of worldnewsnow.com
On Sunday's "Meet the Press," House majority leader John Boehner of Ohio got a pitch over the heart of plate and rather than hit the home run, he fouled it off.
Asked by Moderator David Gregory about President Obama's citizenship and religion, both of which are called into question by more Americans than can even be imagined, Boehner missed an opportunity to unambiguously declare that the President is both a citizen of the United States and a Christian. Furthermore, he missed the chance to say once and for all that discussing these absurdities is pointless.
Instead, Boehner commented, "It's not my job to tell the American people what to think. Our job in Washington is to listen to the American people." And while Beohner went on to say that he accepted the President's word that he is a Christian, as well as, the "facts" of Obama's citizenship, his refusal to "tell the American people" what to think crept eerily close to wimpiness.
Gregory even played a portion of a Fox News conversation with Iowa voters. When the moderator of this "focus group" asked how many thought President Obama was a Muslim, nearly half of them raised their hands!
When pressed as to whether it was Boehner's responsibility to "stand up to that kind of ignorance," the pitch to the heart of the plate, Boehner then fouled off the pitch with his inane comment about not telling the American people what to think. He went on to say that he believed both Obama and the State of Hawaii, but, was not going to tell either the right-wing members of his party and the American people, "stop it!"
Leadership is tricky. A leader walks a dangerous tightrope, one that spans the divide between empowerment and retreat. Boehner finds himself in the position of leading his own Republican Party. He can nurture ignorance, which has the potential to fan the flames of fear, or he can empower others to a greater good. To do the latter, there will be moments when he alone must stand up, hit the home run and declare the facts as they are, not back-step with some imbelic elucidation.
Leadership requires stoutheartedness and the ability to communicate a vision that may indeed yet be in the minds of those listening. I am reminded, for instance, of Dr. Martin Luther King. "I have a dream today..." Reminded, too, of President John F. Kennedy's clarion call, "Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country."
These words were not an attempt to tell the American people what to think. These were visionaries with their fingers on the pulse of their times who had the courage to trumpet a clarion call. Never mind that as a nation we weren't there yet.
Even within the long, storied history of his own party, John Boehner sits atop the legacy of those leaders who went before him. Think Abraham Lincoln's words to a fractured nation or President Ronald Reagan's ultimatum, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
Boehner's appearance on "Meet the Press" could have been an opportunity to lead by example. He might have said something like this. "David, I am glad you asked that question. Let me be absolutely clear. I believe the President is a citizen of this great country. Furthermore, I completely believe him when he says he is a Christian. It is time to lift our eyes from issues long ago decided and dedicate ourselves to restoring American jobs and completing our missions around the world. I call on all of us to rededicate ourselves to doing both."
This would have been true leadership. A home run.
Instead, he fouled off the pitch and now looks like a man who is not ready for the Major Leagues.