Gore, Putin... and Jesus

David Stokes
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Posted: Dec 20, 2007 12:01 AM
Gore, Putin... and Jesus

Poor Al Gore, December is just not his month.  First he loses a nail-biter to George W. Bush, that wound reopened slightly a few days ago with the December 12th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling that gave the presidential nod to Bush. And now, in another pre-Christmas let down, the former Vice President finds himself a mere bridesmaid again as runner up to another winner. 

Never mind an academy award for his movie “AN INCOHERENT…” …er…I mean “An INCONVENIENT Truth” – and also ignoring the fact that he is indeed a NOBEL PRIZE winner (and don’t forget his legendary invention of the internet and being the inspiration for the iconic 70’s movie “LOVE STORY”).  Apparently none of that resume enhancing stuff mattered ultimately to the folks at Time Magazine as they chose their person of the year this week.

This time Mr. Gore finds himself losing to that wacky charmer in the Kremlin, VLADIMIR PUTIN. If you venture to www.time.com you’ll see a picture of the Russian president sitting Lincoln-esque in a pose that actually defines what the absence of a smile looks like.

Time says that this annual choice is not about honor, nor is it an endorsement. They say it’s ultimately about LEADERSHIP, or as they describe it – “bold earth-changing leadership.”  And, though they never use this phrase, they might as well have, to them Putin is a great leader because HE MAKES THE TRAINS RUN ON TIME.  He’s a leader who provides STABILITY before everything else – “stability before freedom, stability before choice, stability in a country that has hardly seen it for a hundred years.”

That’s pretty much the campaign motto of all would-be TYRANTS.

In fairness to Time, they have many times selected powerful people who’ve operated outside the norms of democracy and decency to grace the cover of their magazine as big kahuna of the year. Joseph Stalin was so-named in 1939 and 1942, the second time after the Soviets became our Allies in the Second World War.  Of course, the first time the Russian dictator received Time’s ultimate notice was in the wake of his bold and manipulative non-aggression pact with Adolf Hitler.  But, then Hitler himself was the Time’s annual designee in 1938, though they couldn’t quite muster the guts to actually put his mug on the cover of the magazine at the time. 

I understand that they try to be objective and look for “movers and shakers” irrespective of the particular moves and shakes a leader might use. So, down through the decades the list of luminaries includes names such as Franklin Roosevelt (1932, 1934, & 1941), Harry Truman (1945 & 1948), Winston Churchill (1940 & 1949), Queen Elizabeth (1952), Charles Lindbergh (1927), and Mahatma Ghandi (1930), along with Hitler (1938), Stalin (1939 & 1942), Ayatollah Khomeini (1979), and The Computer (1982). 

Steve Allen used to produce a T.V. show called “Meeting of the Minds,” where he’d bring together people from history for a chat.  You could get a glimpse of what dinner conversation might be like if Socrates, Marie Antoinette, Karl Marx, and Emily Dickinson, for example, broke bread together. 

I wonder what the ultimate Time Magazine Person of the Year Reunion would be like?  I can envision Churchill blowing cigar smoke into Hitler’s face, Stalin mincing few words telling Vladimir Putin how much he enjoyed the stroganoff prepared for him by Putin’s grandfather, and Ghandi trying to find vegetarian hors d’oeuvres.

Vladimir Putin is, in fact, a very skilled practitioner of the art of power politics, no doubt about it. And, he will most certainly remain as the key man in Russia even after he sort of steps down from presidential power next March. He apparently looks back to Peter the Great as inspiration, but, to me, he looks a lot more like the guy his grandpa used to cook for.

Time sees leadership in terms of decisive action and effectiveness.  This concept is widely accepted as the gold standard.  But, there is another compelling way to define and practice leadership and it can be found in something Jesus talked about. One day he was approached by those who were interested in power and the proximity to power – they wanted to flank Jesus on his right and left in the coming kingdom.

Jesus responded with a philosophy radically different from the authority, manipulation, and coercion that marks the normal human exercise of power.  He told his suppliants that REAL leadership is about SERVICE – meeting needs and helping others. 

Rarely, though, does the world acknowledge, or even understand the SERVANT-LEADER.  By the way, there was such a person on Time’s short-list this year. His name is General David Petraeus, the Commander of the Multi-National Forces in Iraq.   

According to Time, he was fifth on the list, reminding me of something else Jesus said – you know…that line about the last being first?