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Jewish World Review
Oct 20, 2011
/ 22 Tishrei, 5772
Who Can Lead Us To Safety?
I've decided to award the King George III medal for the Worst President in U.S. History to Barack Obama. The previous holders were, of course, Jimmy Carter--whose shortcomings, glaring though they seemed at the time, are now fading memories--and such shadowy duds as Warren Harding, James Buchanan and Millard Fillmore.
Mr. Obama's manifest failure as a President would seem more spectacular had it not coincided with a general slump in leadership throughout the world. Ineptitude at the top is clearly responsible for the ugly fact that the banking crisis of 2008--which old J. Pierpont Morgan would have solved in one all-night session in his library--is now lengthening into the most serious economic downturn since the 1930s.
Future analysts will find it hard to believe that the people running the EU allowed the criminal negligence of a few Greek politicians to drag one of the world's largest economic-power groupings into near-bankruptcy. But then Angela Merkel, Silvio Berlusconi and Nicolas Sarkozy are not noteworthy for individual--let alone collective--judgment or for courage in making unpopular but necessary decisions.
Britain hasn't set a good example, either. In his recent memoir Alistair Darling, chancellor of the exchequer when the banking crisis broke, paints a terrifying picture of Prime Minister Gordon Brown's attempts to deal with the situation. Things have improved marginally, but David Cameron leads an uneasy coalition, whose Conservative and Liberal members differ profoundly on economic principles. No possibility there of decisive national leadership, let alone of giving the world a direction to follow.
Asia, which at last is beginning to play a prominent role in the international economy and is successfully raising hundreds of millions from poverty to affluence, unfortunately has not yet learned to speak the language of general welfare. China's rulers are still mired in their Communist past. India's leaders have yet to shake off the inhibitions of colonialism and acquire the authoritative voice of a major power. Japan continues to shy away from leadership; in any case, it changes prime ministers too often for a leader to acquire even elementary recognition or any kind of useful reputation on the world stage.
It's a somber fact that whenever the pundits gather and the hopes of the planet are debated there's no consensus on a figure who could lead and speak words of wisdom for the nations to follow. The person whose name crops up most often, who has high credit ratings for intelligence, insight and fortitude, is the popular prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper. But Canada cannot truthfully be described as a heavyweight power; thus the extent to which it can offer guidance to others and be heeded is limited.
It's useful to look back at earlier generations for comparisons. Thirty years ago I witnessed the coming together of three great and like-minded spirits: Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. This trio of robust and enlightened leaders was able to reinvigorate a despondent world and give it hope, ending the Cold War and opening a new chapter in human freedom.
More than 60 years ago, at the end of World War II, there was a cluster of remarkable men ready to show the demoralized international community that there were still grounds for hope: America's Harry Truman, England's Ernest Bevin, Germany's Konrad Adenauer and Italy's Alcide De Gasperi, as well as some notable figures from the minor powers, such as Belgium's Paul-Henri Spaak. Moreover, Winston Churchill was still around to sound the trumpet-tones of his oratory. In the 1930s, as the fires of civilization were burning low, it was Churchill--the only giant in a generation of pygmies and monsters--who spoke the authentic tones of democracy and decency.
I found it deeply significant and frightening that one of Mr. Obama's first acts upon taking over the White House was to remove the bust of Winston Churchill and return it contemptuously to the British Embassy. I decided then that the sooner this man left office, the better it would be for the world.
Although this remains true, there's no use in rendering Obama a failed, one-term President unless he's to be replaced by someone strikingly better. This is why the preliminaries to next year's election are so important throughout the world. They're already being followed more closely than any others I remember. The world cannot emerge from its profound doldrums until someone of vision, energy and top-notch character again occupies the White House. This means a heavy burden of global responsibility rests on those who guide the Republican Party--and, indeed, on the American people as a whole.
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08/23/11: Wanted: Global Role Models
07/05/11: Debt: A Moral Issue
06/08/11: The Moral Logic of Intervention
03/10/11: China's Secret Weakness: Is history repeating itself?
02/10/11: Assessing America's Foes
11/29/10: Wanted: Someone to Trust
10/19/10: Are Universities Worth It?
06/01/10: The English Language and Freedom
04/20/10: Listening and Telling the Truth
02/28/10: There Is No Keynesian Miracle
10/20/09: A Job Waiting for a Woman?
07/21/09: Obama Has to Be World Sheriff
03/24/09: Short works of genius that cheer up the writing profession
02/11/09: What would Darwin do?
01/27/09: Are you sophisticated? Here's how to find out
01/06/09: What did they talk about in the Ice Age? The weather, of course
09/09/08: Time, and our appalling ignorance of it
08/19/08: Eye-stopping glimpses of an exotic and forbidden world
06/30/08: How to fill a lecture hall, and how to empty it
06/23/08: Americans should count their blessings
05/20/08: Pajamas for Presidents
05/13/08: Literary woodlice boring needless holes in biographical bedposts
04/01/08: When markets come crashing down, send for the man with the big red nose
04/01/08: Quality for dinner. Pass the Fairy Liquid, Old Boy
03/25/08: In search of an American President with brains and guts
03/18/08: Technological warfare against mice won't work. Try cats
03/11/08: What is a genius? We use the word frequently but surely, to guard its meaning, we should bestow it seldom
03/03/08: Fiction as a crutch to get one through life
02/26/08: Impatience + Greed = Trouble
02/13/08: Shakespeare, Neo-Platonism and Princess Diana
02/07/08: Where Industry Has Failed Us
12/19/07: People who put their trust in human power delude themselves
12/12/07: What is aggression?
12/04/07: Pursuing success is not enough
11/07/07: Are famous writers accident-prone?
10/31/07: Courage needed to disarm Iran
09/20/07: Who Will Say I Promise to Lay Off?
07/24/07: Greed is safer than power-seeking
04/02/07: Benefactors must be hardheaded
03/07/07: American idealism and realpolitik
11/28/06: Space: Our ticket to survival
10/24/06: Envy is bad economics
10/11/06: Better to Borrow or Lend? Rethinking conventional wisdom
08/22/06: Don't practice legal terrorism
08/08/06: A summer rhapsody for a pedal-bike
08/03/06: Why is there no workable philosophy of music?
07/11/06: Historically speaking, energy crisis is America's opportunity
07/06/06: The misleading dimensions of persons and lives
06/06/06: First editions are not gold
05/23/06: A downright ugly man need never despair of attracting women, even pretty
04/25/06: Was Washington right about political parties?
04/12/06: Let's Have More Babies!
04/05/06: For the love of trains
03/29/06: Lincoln and the Compensation Culture
03/22/06: Bottle-beauties and the globalised blond beast
03/15/06: Europe's utopian hangover
03/08/06: Kindly write on only one side of the paper
02/28/06: Creators versus critics
02/21/06: The Rhino Principle
© 2009, Paul Johnson