Sunday, November 8, 2009

Leadership: Governor Palin and our Military



A few days ago, the nation experienced a tragedy. Men and women who have committed their lives to the service of their country were gunned down by one of their own. Some of these soldiers may have braved the dangers of war on foreign soil only to come home and be murdered.

I, like all of you, am horrified that 13 lives have been lost and 30 injured. Families have experienced overwhelming sadness, communities have been rocked, and the Fort Hood Army Base in Texas is left trying to pick up the pieces.

As is fitting, the President of the United States offered his condolences concerning the tragic shootings. I was jarred by how he initiated his comments. At first I thought maybe it was just me, but after blogger Ron Devito forwarded an article to me, I realized that it wasn't just me. I have had some time to think about this.

I will preface this by saying that it's never an easy task to address hurting people, much less a hurting nation. However, I simply cannot fathom the manner in which our president opened his remarks at such a somber gathering.

He began by thanking the Department of the Interior for the organizing of a conference. Then at :33 into the video below, he stated the following, causing me to scratch my head in complete bewilderment:

I hear that Dr. Joe Medicine Crow is around, so I want to give a shout-out to that Congressional Medal of Honor winner. Good to see you.

A shout-out? That's the kind of comment one makes at a rally perhaps, but certainly not when you've come to the podium to express condolences.

He continued his remarks, not yet addressing the shooting, and made a promise that the work begun at the conference would continue. At this point, 1:12 into the video, the attendees can be heard applauding and whistling.

Going on, he said:

...I plan to make some broader remarks about the challenges that lay ahead for Native Americans, as well as collaboration with our administration, but as some of you might have heard, there has been a tragic shooting at the Fort Hood Army Base in Texas.

He mentioned the shooting at 2:03 into his comments.

When I think about the gravity of what brought him to address the crowd, I simply cannot wrap my brain around being so cavalier about it all. The cheering in the background during his promise, I believe, was just a reflection of the president's attitude. The people responded in kind. He was light-hearted. They were light-hearted. They followed his lead, it appears.

No doubt, President Obama wasn't trying to be insensitive. However, I am not the only one who can't help but wonder where his advisors were and why he didn't know that opening comments about Dr. Joe and a conference were not appropriate when someone has just attacked our military.

Robert A. George of NBCChicago.com wrote in an article called Disconnected President:

Getty Images President Obama didn't wait long after Tuesday's devastating elections to give critics another reason to question his leadership, but this time the subject matter was more grim than a pair of governorships.

After news broke out of the shooting at the Fort Hood Army post in Texas, the nation watched in horror as the toll of dead and injured climbed. The White House was notified immediately and by late afternoon, word went out that the president would speak about the incident prior to a previously scheduled appearance. At about 5 p.m., cable stations went to the president. The situation called for not only his trademark eloquence, but also grace and perspective.

But instead of a somber chief executive offering reassuring words and expressions of sympathy and compassion, viewers saw a wildly disconnected and inappropriately light president making introductory remarks. At the event, a Tribal Nations Conference hosted by the Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian affairs, the president thanked various staffers and offered a "shout-out" to "Dr. Joe Medicine Crow -- that Congressional Medal of Honor winner." Three minutes in, the president spoke about the shooting, in measured and appropriate terms. Who is advising him?

[...]

Did the president's team not realize what sort of image they were presenting to the country at this moment? The disconnect between what Americans at home knew had been going on -- and the initial words coming out of their president's mouth was jolting, if not disturbing.

[...]

If the president's communications apparatus can't inform -- and protect -- their boss during tense moments when the country needs to see a focused commander-in-chief and a compassionate head of state, it has disastrous consequences for that president's party and supporters.

All the president's men (and women) fell down on the job Thursday. And Democrats across the country have real reason to panic.

Governor Palin, however, did demonstrate compassion as she responded to the tragedy--not trying to be deep, long winded, or light-hearted. With simple heart-felt sympathy, she released these words via Facebook:

Todd and I would like to offer our condolences to the families of the victims of the tragic shooting today at Fort Hood. Our thoughts and prayers will be with them.

- Sarah Palin

Governor Palin also demonstrated her appreciation for U.S. soldiers and her sorrow at the Fort Hood tragedy on Friday at Wisconsin Right to Life. Before doing anything else, reported K. Carpenter, the governor honored them:

As she stepped to the microphone when the cheering began to die down, the Governor’s first thoughts were on America’s military forces. After asking all of our current military and veterans to stand, she asked for a moment of silence. She told us that during the moment of silence she would be saying a prayer and invited us all to do the same. After the moment of silence for the soldiers currently serving at Fort Hood, she immediately thanked our military personnel for their service to a raucous round of applause and cheers for our military.

I repeat, I don't believe President Obama meant to be insensitive, and probably didn't even realize he was being insensitive. But that's part of the problem. He, no doubt, is as saddened by this tragedy as the rest of America. His handling of it, therefore, illustrates not so much a lack of concern as it does a lack of leadership.

Governor Palin's love for our military is without question. She has always voiced true concern for our men and women in uniform and has advocated for their support. She wraps that concern in leadership ability, effectively communicating to the American people on their behalf.

The sensitive manner in which she addresses tragic situations of this nature, which none of us ever wants to see happen, reveals within her what Robert A. George says should exist in a "focused commander-in-chief and a compassionate head of state."

We learn much about a person by observing how they lead in difficult times, and Governor Palin demonstrates a sincere heart of leadership when it is most needed.


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