Regardless of spin, last night's election results were a rebuke to our President and the existing Congress. Somehow the President has gone from the super mandate (super majorities in both houses of Congress and the Presidency) to nearly losing both houses and falling to "one-term" status in current presidential polls.
The political stuff here should be read through a ministry lens. I'm sure you can apply what I'm saying to your context.
Here's why I think last night happened:
It happened because people feel like no one is listening. They also feel like their leaders think they are dumb and that they know better–so they are passing things most people don't want. Yes, it has to do with policy, etc. But, the volume of the shout America gave last night came because they want government to listen. Current government isn't listening well, and so, the people are speaking more loudly. That's my take: decline via deafness.
In his fantastic book, How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins observes the first step in the process of decline is what he calls "The Hubris Born of Success." Brilliant, and, unfortunately, fitting. At a variety of levels, our President has acted with hubris born of his own success. It's what we hear as he insults his predecessor, and what we sense as he critiques his opponents. Nothing illustrates this hubris better than his statement to his Republican opponents during the health care debate, "Elections have consequences." Indeed they do.
The second phase of decline, according to Collins: Undisciplined Pursuit of More. Nuff said.
The third phase: Denial of risk and peril. Even into the evening last night, Nancy Pelosi still claimed the Democrats were in position to hold the House.
The fourth: Grasping for salvation.
The fifth: Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death.
Sadly, our President has provided a master class in how to speed through the first 3 phases. I'm hopeful he will, at stage 4, learn from the experience and change course. What does that look like?
If I were Obama, here's what I would do (not that he cares what I think):
- Be quiet about your predecessor unless you are going to say something respectful. Be gracious, not ugly or vicious. Why? Because it's unbecoming and, as you're learning, it's a more difficult job than it looked like. True, you've been dealt a difficult hand…but your predecessor had to deal with the awful Bush-Gore voting mess, the bursting of the tech bubble and 9-11 within his first year. No violins for either of you. Don't demand credit for anything yet. Get the country through this and you may get credit. If not, you're in a service occupation anyway.
- Stop calling everything you do "unprecedented." First of all, it's usually not. Second, other people need to say that for you.
- Throw the other side a bone every now and then. You can't lead by polls, but you can't lead against the will of the people all the time. In each of these cases the strong majority of the country disagreed with you–Ft. Hood, trial of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Arizona, Ground-Zero Mosque, health-care, stimulus, bailouts, etc.—pick one…any one…and throw the other side a bone. Just one of those would have helped you out a lot.
- Chill with the class and race warfare rhetoric. No "back of the bus" or "enemies" stuff. Head back to more hopeful rhetoric. Help us believe you, at times, like us and you like America. Right now, it feels to some like you don't.
All of these can happen without compromising your core beliefs. All of them are about attitude, pastoral heart, and leadership. Our President has these traits in him, but he needs to listen to the voice of the people, love them, and lead them. Whether it's a church or a country, last night's lessons are the same. Listen, lead, love.
How to you interpret last night's results? What advice would you give the President? What mistake or virtue do you see in our President and typical church leaders? Note: Only comments that are appropriate in tone and content will be posted. I would love to hear your observations.