Obama and Moral Courage

Since, I first wrote this blog, I have noticed a marked change in President Obama.  He has taken the more difficult path on many issues and I would now rate him much more kindly in terms of his moral courage.  He has faced blatant racism and antagonism from many right wing zealots in this country, but particularly from the so called Republican leadership. Despite the low ratings he often receives, I think posterity will be much more kind to him for his strength and courage in trying to do the right thing for the majority of Americans.  I am proud that I voted for him and would without hesitation vote for him again.  If you still read the rest of my blog, please remember I wrote this blog many months ago and I have witnessed a much more courageous man in office this past several months.

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I voted for President Barack Obama in both elections.  I would vote for him again.  I lobbied for him.  I canvassed for him.  I sent funds regularly to support his campaign.  I was pleased that he passed the Affordable Care Act.  However, to date, Obama has demonstrated a lack of “Moral Courage” in his efforts to lead this country.   I have wanted to see him stand up and “kick ass.”  He has failed to do so on numerous occasions.  During his first term, I could forgive him for not closing Guantanamo or for the use of drones in our war against the Taliban.   However, once he was reelected, I expected more gumption and guts on his part.  I repeat myself, but to date all I have seen is a noticeable lack of Moral Courage in his efforts to lead our nation.  His giving in to the war hawks on Syria was the most recent and perhaps most egregious example.  I have no faith in the Democrats since they have repeatedly shown themselves to be moral cowards but I held out more “HOPE” for President Obama.

Moral Courage has been defined in numerous ways.  Some of them suggest a rather trivial approach to the concept.  For instance, someone said that “it takes Moral Courage to pick up litter.”  Perhaps!  However, I think of Moral Courage as more than just “picking up litter.”  A moral is something that has significant ethical relevance.  To be moral, means to be on the side of ethical and legal behavior.  It is not enough to be legal to be moral, you must also be ethical.  Racists, sexists, thieves and those who would deny others their rights are not moral people.

A web definition of the term “Moral” is:

Concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character.  “The moral dimensions of medical intervention”

Synonyms:  virtuous, good, righteous, upright, upstanding, high-minded, principled, honorable, honest, just, noble, incorruptible, scrupulous, respectable, decent, clean-living, law-abiding. 

Moral Courage is at least as much about courage as it is about morality.  It is easy to be moral when no one is challenging your ideas or positions.  It is much more difficult to be moral when you find yourself in the minority.  The term courage implies that one is brave in the face of some threat or risk to their well-being.  The greater the threat, the greater the courage it takes to be moral.  Thus, my definition of Moral Courage isTaking an ethical position in the face of a threat to your well-being or life. 

I have been a management consultant since 1986.  I have worked with over thirty companies.  One of my standard cautions to leaders (CEO’s, Presidents, Directors, etc.) was that if you wanted to make real change in your organization you had to risk being a martyr.  No one who undertakes change will gladly be accepted or warmly welcomed by a majority of the population.

“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” — Niccolo Machiavelli

Moral Courage is a prerequisite for anyone who will undertake real change.  When Obama was campaigning, he promised real change to Americans.  We can’t blame him for the cowardice of the Democrats or the greed of the Republicans.  We can’t blame him for the partisanship that dominates politics today.  We can’t blame him for the high cost of medical care and the failure of our educational system today.  We can blame him for a lack of Moral Courage. The root causes of the major problems in America today can be found in the thinking that dominates politics and our institutions.  Specifically, we see the following:

  1. Short term thinking dominates long-term thinking
  2. A failure to see things from a systems perspective
  3. Lack of Moral Courage among our leaders.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.”  ― Albert Einstein

Since President Obama is the “leader” of this country, the lack of these characteristics in his thinking is the most egregious in terms of assigning blame.  The first two faults we can attribute to his inexperience in politics and his lack of depth in the world of organizational change.  The third fault is a character fault and directly stems from his lack of courage in standing up to his critics and his unwillingness to take risks to change the system.  President Obama has found it easier to go along with the system then risk challenging the system and perhaps becoming a martyr to change.

American history is full of men and women who displayed Moral Courage.  The Founding Fathers, the Abolitionists, Harriet Tubman, the Suffragettes, Abraham Lincoln, Caesar Chavez, Martin Luther King and numerous others are well known to most of you.  All of these people either risked death or censure by their actions.  In many cases, they suffered untold hardships because of their willingness to stand up for what they believed.  When faced with the divergent paths of expedience or risk, they all took the path of risk.  For more information on people who have displayed Moral Courage go to:

http://moralheroes.org/

At this site, you will find numerous examples of individuals demonstrating Moral Courage in the face of risk and threats.

MoralHeroes.org is an ever-growing archive of inspirational men and women throughout our history that have sacrificed for the betterment of others physically, socially, politically, economically, or environmentally.

These acknowledged and unsung heroes have intentionally sacrificed their social standing and location, political or economic gains, or even given their own lives for others.

According to the authors of this site:

A Moral Hero is not a hero of accident or impulse (such as a firefighter in a burning building, or someone jumping in the way of a bus to protect another). A Moral Hero must have intentionally and selflessly upheld a moral virtue, such as kindness, patience, justice, compassion, love, or peace; knowing of the full risks and consequences of their actions. We have seen this in civil rights movements, democracy movements, peace movements and individual acts of kindness. They are not perfect humans, without blemish or errors. They may not have achieved their goal while alive, but they must have made a heroic effort to do so. They may not have spent their entire life as a Hero, or even been popular at all. However, if their single deed is great enough to inspire us to a higher standard of community, then they are a Moral Hero.

President Barack Obama has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. This is one of the highest honors that can be bestowed on anyone. During the recent crisis over the use of chemical weapons in Syria, his position provoked some to remark that if the USA bombs Syria, Obama should be stripped of his peace prize.  I would second this recommendation.   His initial failure to look for alternatives, his failure to stand up to the war hawks and his failure to consider the United Nations as a potential resource to address the Syrian Crisis all showed a streak of moral cowardice.  Again, I might have attributed this to expedience in his first term, but now that he is closing out his second term, it is a lack of Moral Courage.

I know most Americans are sick of the partisanship in Congress. We are sick and tired of our elected leaders standing up for their party and not for our country.  We have had it with threats of shutdowns and filibusters to prevent anything being changed.  I call President Obama on his failure to demonstrate Moral Courage, but most of our so called leadership demonstrates the same character fault.

Can any of you think of an elected leader who you would nominate as a Moral Hero/Heroine?  I could take up the rest of this blog with the names of elected officials who have broken our trust with unethical acts of greed, lust and self-interest, but the newspapers give you these names on a daily basis.  It would be repetitious to repeat the names of these crooks, cheats and adulterers.  In fact, the only reason to do so might be humorous.  How many of these “immoral” leaders have asked for a “second” chance or found Jesus or committed themselves for “therapy?”   If I robbed a bank, do you think the judge would let me off if I found Jesus or found a good shrink?

These people who we elect have robbed us of more than our money. They have robbed us of the trust that we need in our leaders.  Without trust, we cannot have a great nation.  Ultimately, we trust in God, but on a daily basis, we are forced to trust our leaders to do the right thing and to care more about morals and ethics than to get reelected.  Unfortunately, for the past several years, the evidence shows that we have elected individuals who care more about their egos, their party and their chance to be reelected than they do about their country.

Time for Questions:

Polls repeatedly show a high percentage of Americans are dissatisfied with Congress, then why did we reelect over eighty five percent of them?  What will it take for Americans to say “I have had enough?”  Can we ever expect our elected officials to rise about their parties and to care more about their country?  What do we have to do as citizens to change our system?  Is it true that as Pericles said “The character of a state is determined by the virtues of individual citizens?”  Are we getting the government that we deserve?  What do we need to do to deserve better?”

Life is just beginning.

9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. johnpersico
    Oct 12, 2013 @ 07:35:58

    “But a funny thing happened on the way to the national stage: The president decided not to cave, and Republicans treated this as if it were shocking that he would not gut his single biggest legislative achievement”. From: Gloria Borger
    http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/09/opinion/borger-defund-obamacare-fantasy/index.html — President Obama’s refusal to be blackmailed by the GOP is the kind of moral courage I am talking about in my blog. In the present situation with the shutdown, the President is exemplifying this trait and the Tea Party led GOP is showing anything but moral courage.

    Reply

  2. Greg Gorman
    Oct 15, 2013 @ 02:35:55

    Obama lacks moral courage.
    1. Polls repeatedly show a high percentage of Americans are dissatisfied with Congress, then why did we reelect over eighty five percent of them?
    The states have the right to define voting districts. The process of defining voting districts when it’s done to the advantage of the party in power is called Gerrymandering. (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering ) This process collects people of the same political ideology to be voting together, thus assuring the election of a representative who supports this same ideology. The conflux of various single minded representative working together to advance their particular issue is why there is no little common ground. Presumably, the voters prefer to advance their agenda rather than to submit to compromise. The dissatisfaction results from the inability to the voters to understand that compromise is necessary to accomplish duties needed to operate the government.
    2. What will it take for Americans to say “I have had enough?”
    The social history of this nation and nations in general, tell the tale. For social change to happen, people have to go the streets. We’ve seen this happen with Occupy Wall Street, Vietnam War Protests, Union Labor struggles, Civil Rights, voting rights for women, even anarchists in the 1880’s. Some have been more successful than others, but all of them have made public statements and have resisted common order to the extent that law enforcement had to become involved in trying to control them.
    3. Can we ever expect our elected officials to rise about their parties and to care more about their country?
    Not as long as our method for electing officials remains the same. The amount of financial support needed to run for office is so large that anyone seeking office has their agenda compromised before the election. Anyone not willing to be compromised will not get the support needed to be elected.
    4. What do we have to do as citizens to change our system?
    First we have to recognize the problem.
    Second, deconstruct the problem.
    Thirdly, we must determine how to solve its constitutive parts.
    Fourthly, we must sell it to the people.
    Fifthly, organize, organize, and organize.
    5. Is it true that as Pericles said “The character of a state is determined by the virtues of individual citizens?”
    Clearly no. If it were then the government would represent the will of the people. I suppose it’s possible to identify such states, but it’s far simpler to identify those states that do not. Most people are unaware of what possibilities exist for their government.
    6. Are we getting the government that we deserve?
    I don’t know what you mean by deserve. How do you deserve something? Do you work real hard? Go to war? Send your children to war? Work your entire life doing mind-numbing work? The real question is “Do we get the government we expected when we cast our vote?”
    7. What do we need to do to deserve better?”
    Try building self-esteem, as self-esteem goes up, so does your sense of entitlement.

    Reply

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