George Washington knew a thing or two about leadership during a crisis. Arguably one of the greatest military leaders in modern history, he was chosen as president of a new nation, one with a idealistic notion of liberty. He was also acutely aware that a cohesive nation was a calm one, and that governing required order and unity:
The unity of government which constitutes you one people is also now dear to you. It is justly so, for it is a main pillar in the edifice of your real independence, the support of your tranquility at home, your peace abroad; of your safety; of your prosperity; of that very liberty which you so highly prize. But as it is easy to foresee that, from different causes and from different quarters, much pains will be taken, many artifices employed to weaken in your minds the conviction of this truth; as this is the point in your political fortress against which the batteries of internal and external enemies will be most constantly and actively (though often covertly and insidiously) directed, it is of infinite moment that you should properly estimate the immense value of your national union to your collective and individual happiness; that you should cherish a cordial, habitual, and immovable attachment to it; accustoming yourselves to think and speak of it as of the palladium of your political safety and prosperity; watching for its preservation with jealous anxiety; discountenancing whatever may suggest even a suspicion that it can in any event be abandoned; and indignantly frowning upon the first dawning of every attempt to alienate any portion of our country from the rest, or to enfeeble the sacred ties which now link together the various parts.
The tranquility and peace of our nation, Washington noted, is supported by the unity of our government. We’ve lost that. Peggy Noonan, writing for the Wall Street Journal, says we are now in the midst of “government by freakout“, an on-going crisis-to-crisis saga of economic cliffs, embattled legislation and threats of slashed programs. Noonan says the Obama administration is unifying us all right: “Mr. Obama has finally hit on his own version of national unity: Everyone get scared together.”
As Members of Congress left town last week for the Presidents’ Day break, a refreshing and commendable sentiment followed them: nostalgia for the “regular order” of lawmaking.
“Tired of watching as flailing leadership negotiations fail to produce any key legislation,” wrote The Washington Post, “senior lawmakers hope that a return to the old days of subcommittee hearings and bill markups, floor amendments and conference reports may offer a path forward on everything from immigration to a long-term budget plan.”
If the fruits of unity are tranquility and peace, then crisis-to-crisis freakouts bring about jangled nerves, unease and exhaustion on the part of the American people. And Noonan says that Obama is failing to do the one thing he was elected to do: lead.
[T]he president damages himself with his cleverness. At the end of the day he looks incapable of creating a sense of stability. The thing he misses as he shrewdly surveys the field is what he is: the president. He is the man people expect to lead, to be wiser. He is the one they expect to come up with a plan that is a little more than Let’s Threaten Catastrophe.
Here is to tranquility, peace and order: may it soon be ours. And here’s to telling our current president: make it happen.