Last night, in the Vice Presidential debate, Vice President Joe Biden had this to say about the recent debacle in Libya which culminated in the horrifying killing of a U. S. Ambassador with barely a whisper from executive office (full transcript here):
RADDATZ: What were you first told about the attack? Why — why were people talking about protests? When people in the consulate first saw armed men attacking with guns, there were no protesters. Why did that go on (inaudible)?
BIDEN: Because that was exactly what we were told by the intelligence community. The intelligence community told us that. As they learned more facts about exactly what happened, they changed their assessment. That’s why there’s also an investigation headed by Tom Pickering, a leading diplomat from the Reagan years, who is doing an investigation as to whether or not there are any lapses, what the lapses were, so that they will never happen again.
RADDATZ: And they wanted more security there.
BIDEN: Well, we weren’t told they wanted more security there. We did not know they wanted more security again. And by the way, at the time we were told exactly — we said exactly what the intelligence community told us that they knew. That was the assessment. And as the intelligence community changed their view, we made it clear they changed their view.
I’m still trying to wrap my mind around these words. A sitting Vice President of America blames the intelligence community on what happened in Libya? Perhaps intelligence was lacking–that’s way above my pay grade. But this blame-shifting seems problematic.
In my view, a good leader takes the blame and spreads the credit. A bad leader spreads the blame and takes the credit. Surely there is complexity in major matters of state, just like there is in business, spiritual life, and elsewhere. But at the end of the day, a virtuous leader will fall on the grenade. He won’t pass it to others.
The emblem of this kind of others-centered leadership is Jesus Christ. In the most profound metaphysical way, he took our blame and gave us his merit (see Romans 4-5). This is the image of leadership that animates us as Christians. It changes the way we move and act and inspire and repent. We are those who are free to acknowledge our sin, our failing, because God has been lavish with his grace, and nothing can separate us from it.
For those of you who like basketball, here’s an interesting parallel. Now that Steve Nash, 2005-06 NBA MVP, is on the Lakers (swallowing bile now), Kobe Bryant–alpha male of alpha males–took the opportunity to tell Nash that he won his trophy because Bryant was playing with subpar teammates: “I tell Steve, you won MVP but I was playing with Smush Parker,” he said. This is a perfect illustration of what we’re discussing here. Never mind that Kobe is the NBA’s worst proponent of “hero ball” (and not terribly good at it, statistically) and that he is nursing wounds from six years ago despite the fact that he has won five rings, been MVP, and Nash has won no championships. He has the temerity to dog an ex-teammate (one who, granted, didn’t play very hard) nearly a decade later.
So kids: don’t be like Kobe. Actually, all of us can learn from these two examples of poor leadership. Fathers can lead with humility, confessing their sin; business leaders don’t have to project invincibility; even professors (uh oh!) can show their students that they don’t know everything, and that that’s okay. Humility, after all, is not weakness. It is strength, much as the world–and major debates–say otherwise.