Oh to be a fly on the Vatican wall at last week’s historic meeting between Pope Francis and President Obama. On their agenda was reportedly global economic inequality, but I wonder if President Obama shouldn’t have used the opportunity to get some leadership pearls of wisdom from His Holiness. Based on the Pope’s beliefs and leadership style, here’s how I think his guidance could help the President fix his troubled approval ratings — and the bigger issues lingering beneath.
From a broken web site to broken promises to much higher premiums for millions of Americans, the Obamacare launch has no doubt damaged the President’s image.
Pope Francis — who’s received accolades and criticism for washing the feet of prisoners among others — might offer President Obama guidance on walking the talk. I could imagine him saying this: “Require all government employees (including Senators and Congressmen) to enroll in the program. No loopholes or exceptions.
“Setting a standard for you and your team that is different than the standard you set for those you serve sends the wrong message. It tells them you are in a separate class. They resent your privilege and the perception that you ask of them something you would not do yourself. Witness my refusal to live in the papal residence or drive a fancy car. The message those actions send tells Catholics around the world that I am no better than they are. I am their equal and they are mine. Go use the website you built and register for the very programs you mandated millions of people to sign up for.”
2. Russia and Crimea
Russia’s recent incursion into Crimea is the latest international crisis to embroil the Obama administration. Recent headlines on the issue have centered on the President’s defense of his position relative to that taken by Mitt Romney in the last election. President Obama’s arguments about the Russian threat and Mr. Romney’s inaccurate assessment are not resolving the Crimean issue — they’re simply reinforcing the “Washington bickering as usual” perception that has also damaged the President’s ratings.
Again, here’s how I imagine the Pope might guide the President: “Pride is one of the seven deadly sins. We are human and we make mistakes. The world changes around us. Acknowledging that we could have been wrong and focusing on making things right is a sign of strength and leadership — not a sign of weakness.
“Instead of expending energy on rehashing an old argument, focus your efforts on resolving the Crimean crisis. Work with Mr. Romney and see what you can learn from him about how to resolve the situation. Learn from my example; I have evaluated long-standing doctrines of the Catholic Church and determined that a changing world requires revisiting our views on issues like divorce and homosexuality. It is easy to pound one’s fist on the table and continue arguing an old view. It is much more difficult to reevaluate the world and offer new, if unpopular, perspectives that improve the situation at hand.”
3. War with Republicans
Both the Democratic and Republican parties have suffered declining approval rating thanks to acrimony and mutual antagonism. The President has staunchly defended his policies and has joined in attacks on his Republican detractors. For an American public weary of such bickering, this behavior only serves to erode support for all sides.
I suspect that Pope Francis’s counsel would tend toward forgiveness, reconciliation, and pardon: “My namesake, St. Francis, said this: ‘Where there is injury, let me sow pardon.’ Your detractors in the Republican Party have clearly injured your reputation and pride, and you have wounded theirs. Continuing to fight with them lowers you in stature as a leader. Rise above the conflict and pardon the injuries they have caused you. Set aside pride and anger. Seek the common ground and focus on solutions versus expending energy on defending ideologies and policy positions.”
For all his patience and perspective, Pope Francis has never been tested by grueling mid-term elections and open policy battles — that is a fair point. Still, his leadership teachings could be exactly what President Obama needs to turn around his image.
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