Written on Thursday, December 27, 2012 by David L. Goetsch
In times of tragedy, Americans cry out for leadership—leadership that is strong, empathetic, and comforting—leadership that gives them hope. This is the type of leadership the victims of Superstorm Sandy and the families who lost loved ones in the Sandy Hook tragedy needed but did not get from President Obama. Barack Obama practically ignored Sandy’s victims. Other than his pre-election hug fest with New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christy, Obama did little to give the storm victims hope and comfort. Instead, while they suffered the ravages of the storm—their difficulties magnified by a cold and wet winter—the president announced his plans for a four million dollar vacation in sunny Hawaii. When the Sandy Hook families looked to him for comfort and hope, he shed one obligatory tear and then turned the issue into a political squabble over gun control.
America’s president—no matter who he happens to be—is known as the “leader of the free world.” This has been the case since America emerged from World War II as an acknowledged global superpower. However, as anyone who has ever served in the military, worked in an organization, or played sports knows, there is a big difference between a person being in a leadership position and that person being a leader. A leader is someone who, by his example, rallies others behind a common cause. Good leaders have a vision for making things better and they are able to bring people together to achieve the vision.
To bring people together after a tragedy and give them hope, leaders must have credibility. They earn credibility by showing the victims of tragedy that they care about them. One of the ways good leaders earn credibility is by subjecting themselves to the same types of circumstances and challenges their followers face. They roll up their sleeves and pitch in to help. In other words, they lead from the front by their actions rather than just standing back and making speeches. Only in this way can they earn credibility with and develop empathy for those they are trying to lead. Credibility and empathy are essential leadership characteristics during times of tragedy. This is what is meant by leaders feeling the pain of their constituents, something Presidents Reagan, Bush (G.W.), and even Clinton understood, even if Clinton’s sincerity was suspect. People who were suffering responded to these presidents because they felt their empathy and believed they were sincere.
Few things will undermine a leader’s credibility and ability to empathize more surely than arrogance. Based on these two criteria—credibility and empathy—it is clear why Barack Obama is such as poor leader in times of tragedy. He is simply too arrogant to feel empathy and to do what is necessary to earn credibility. President Obama’s first four years in office provided almost daily examples of his arrogance. During the height of the great recession President Obama took numerous extravagant and highly-publicized vacations and could often be found enjoying himself on the golf course with his wealthy buddies. His level of empathy for the 23 million Americans standing in unemployment lines was zero. Hence his credibility with them was also low. As I wrote in an earlier column: Obama Spent the great recession “living large” while millions of Americans suffered.
Unfortunately, as he approaches his second term as president, Barack Obama has not changed—he is still arrogant and completely lacking in empathy for his constituents. If there was a time to discuss the issue of gun control, it was not while the grieving families of Sandy Hook were still in shock and needed a leader to give them comfort and hope. I am going to limit the number of rounds allowed in a rifle’s magazine is hardly the message a grieving father and mother need to hear as they lower their child’s coffin into the ground.
Presidents Reagan, Bush (G.W.), and even Clinton were human beings first and politicians second. That is why they could empathize with people suffering through tragic losses. President Obama is a politician first, second, and always. He cannot stop campaigning long enough to be a fellow father and husband who truly feels the pain of Americans who are suffering. This, itself, is a tragedy because millions of Americans are suffering and in need of a president who can give them comfort and hope. Unfortunately, they will have to wait at least another four years for that.