We can use some leadership in this post 9/11 era
By: Joe Henderson – Columnist News Talk Florida
The 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attack seems a fitting time to discuss leadership, a subject much in the news these days.
It is one the saddest commentaries on where we are as a nation that the Republican nominee for president expresses his bro-mance for Russia’s Vladimir Putin, but that’s a rant for another day.
This is a time to remember leadership that was shown by our leaders during times of extreme stress. I’m talking about President John Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis, where the steel in his backbone helped prevent a global catastrophe. I’m talking about Lyndon Johnson in those awful hours after Kennedy was assassinated.
Ronald Reagan’s soaring oratory after the Challenger disaster will be long remembered. And George W. Bush never stood taller than he did in those days after his nation – our nation – was knocked to its knees on Sept. 11, 2001.
The world stood riveted when Bush flew to New York three days after the attack and went to Ground Zero. The rubble was still smoldering and people were dazed as they tried to cope. That’s when Bush did what leaders do – he put his arm around one of the firefighters, then reached for a bullhorn and began to address the workers.
When one of them shouted that he couldn’t hear, Bush responded with the most memorable quote of his presidency: “I can hear you!” he shouted. “The rest of the world hears you! And the people – and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”
Bush later would make the horrible decision to invade Iraq, a miscalculation America still pays for today. And, yes, the epic collapse of the United States economy happened on his watch. This is not to excuse any of that.
But what he did at Ground Zero is a great example of what the nation longs for in our darkest hours. We need to know there is someone in charge who has resolve and who, with words, can express clearly what the nation needs to hear.
It can be Reagan, at a tipping point in history, standing at Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin and telling Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev: “… if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization, come here to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
It can be Johnson, appearing before Congress and the nation five days after Kennedy was murdered, and combining empathy for grieving widow and country, yet showing he was prepared to lead.
“All I have I would have gladly given not to be standing here today. The greatest leader of our time has been struck down by the foulest deed of our time,” he said. “An assassin’s bullet has thrust upon me the awesome burden of the presidency.”
Do we see such qualities in Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton?
Clinton was in the Situation Room when President Barack Obama, in his greatest triumph of leadership, ordered the military to proceed with an extremely risky plan to kill Osama bin Laden. In moments like that, when generals are looking to you for the “go” order, we find out who has the goods and who doesn’t.
Would Clinton have pushed ahead? Or would she have wanted more time to study it? She strikes me as someone who always wants one more set of facts and figures.
That’s less reckless than Trump, of course, who seems to find facts an annoyance. Trump confuses bullying and brashness with leadership.
But does either one qualify as leadership?
America never knows when it will most need to be led by someone capable of lifting a nation from grief and paralysis into resolve. We’ve had it before. We know what it looks like. I’m not sure we’re seeing it in either of these two candidates.
The latest edition of The Politically Incorrect Podcast. Joe Henderson, Tom Jackson, Alan Steinberg and Jim Williams.