That was Mitt Romney’s directive when asked if he had anything to say to President Obama now that, at least unofficially, the 2012 general election campaign for White House residency has begun.
Not at all a surprising response from the Republican candidate who contends that reality is fundamentally economic in nature, and, therefore, that only someone who fully understands economics – and a particular kind of economics at that – has the credentials to lead the nation.
By “fully understands,” Romney makes clear that book learning or scholarly instruction is insufficient. What counts most is having lived in the real world of day-to-day economic realities.
That’s why Romney’s incumbent opponent is disqualified. Not only does Obama lack an MBA, but he is also completely deficient in business experience – in successfully leading a business, creating jobs and then hiring and firing people, all while accumulating great wealth for oneself.
How could training in and teaching of constitutional law and extensive experience in community and political organizing possibly qualify anyone for national leadership if economics is the genuine measure of all things?
So Candidate Romney keeps repeating: “We need a president who understands how this economy works and how to get people working again and how to get gasoline prices down.”
Romney concedes that the president isn’t a bad guy, but just someone who is in “over his head.”
Someone who isn’t in over his head is capable of, and even enjoys, telling people they’re fired and to “start packing.” An endorsement by The Donald should come as no shock.
Other Republican candidates for the presidency have articulated different standards for national leadership, which Obama evidently does not meet.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich believes it is about coming up with and implementing big ideas.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum holds that it is advocacy for a particular kind of moral fidelity.
Current Rep. Ron Paul thinks it is a fierce commitment to key principles: individual liberty, free markets and limited government – starting with the Federal Reserve System.
But now that these other aspirants for the presidency have been effectively eliminated and the standard bearer for the Republican Party has been selected, the American electorate will need to decide on what model of leadership the nation requires at this moment in its history.
The electorate evidently will have to decide whether it now needs a CEO – a chief executive officer that draws on the model of the successful free market business leader.
Given the state of a global and national economy that was in ruins and is still struggling toward recovery, the CEO model is enticing for this particular time.
But a business executive with plenty of political experience as well challenges that seductive idea.
To be sure, William Daley is a well-credentialed Democrat, with a family dynasty and personal resume in the party as irrefutable documentation.
Still, he has made his own distinctive mark within his family and his family’s political party by also achieving success in the business world, including CEO of a major business enterprise (SBC Communications), membership on the executive committee of JP Morgan Chase, and as secretary of commerce in the Clinton administration.
While serving as chief of staff for Obama, he was acknowledged as a voice for “big business” in the administration.
Recently Bill Daley disputed the notion that the nation now needed a CEO as its president, arguing that “being president is not analogous to being a CEO,” since a constitutional democracy requires a leader who has the capacity to work with members of other co-equal branches of government.
“Congress doesn’t view itself as a board of directors of the president,” Daley observed. “The CEO has control of your company … You don’t have that with the president, the Congress and the Supreme Court.”
It is, of course, a separate question whether Obama, even with his credentials as a constitutional scholar and earlier record of working across party lines as a legislator, has been successful in working with Congress and the Supreme Court. A strong case can be made that he has left a lot to be desired on that front.
But Daley’s assessment should caution us against thinking that a CEO from the business world will solve much.
The Bible, of course, has no special standing in defining how a constitutional democracy should operate, including how a president ought to carry out her or his administrative role in conjunction with the Congress and the court.
The image of the shepherd in Hebrew and Christian scriptures, however, might be somewhat suggestive – granting that legislators and jurists aren’t exactly sheep!
I have in mind, for example, qualities of the shepherd Jesus identifies in John 10, where the shepherd, unlike the hired hand, not only cares for all the sheep, even if it means risking his or her own life, but also “knows” the sheep and does so in a way that the sheep “know” the shepherd.
There is in good shepherd-hood what has been termed a “mutuality of knowing” that leads to the common good – even when the common good requires self-sacrifice on the part of the shepherd.
In fact, it is the self-sacrifice that becomes the defining characteristic of what makes the shepherd good.
I’m fairly sure that this capacity for mutual knowing and self-sacrifice has relevance for effective political leadership and for leadership in business and other spheres as well.
I’m fairly sure as well that this notion of knowing resists reducing all of reality into only a single dimension, whether it be economic or political.
And if that’s the case, then directives like “start packing” and “you’re fired” might not be the best way of revealing who you are as a candidate for national leadership.
It’s only a suggestion to candidates for political office in these times, albeit drawn from scriptures that have no authority except their power to persuade, but here it goes: Try out the theme of “mutual knowing” and even “mutual self-sacrifice.”
Larry Greenfield retired on Dec. 31, 2018 as the executive director of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. He served previously as executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, a regional judicatory of the American Baptist Churches U.S.A, and the theologian-in-residence for the Community Renewal Society.