Can Joe Biden Save the World?

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Can Joe Biden Save the World?

American politics suffers from a raging epidemic of braggadocio.
From the February 2008 Trumpet Print Edition

Pomposity used to be a bad thing, didn’t it? In America today it seems prerequisite to sustaining any kind of public image. Humility, apparently, is for wimps.

Modern political campaigns have a way of showcasing this ugliness. Under the garish glow of the news media, candidates elbow each other as they promote themselves, shamelessly advertising their own prodigious talents as being the singular key to averting national suicide.

In a recent interview on cnn’s Election Express, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said, “[M]y party has the chance to nominate someone to save the world. Literally. Save the world. The direction this world is going in is an absolute disaster. Disaster. And four more years of this may be irreversible.”

The interviewer, Candy Crowley, asked bluntly, “Can Joe Biden save the world?”

“Yes,” Biden deadpanned. Without a nanosecond of hesitation.

Rewind. Save the world? What leads a man in his position ever to provide safe lodgment in the recesses of his mind for such audacious, unadulterated conceit?

I think it’s the system. This is only one example—a single sneeze on the subway—borne of a political system, responding to an entire culture, suffering from a raging epidemic of braggadocio.

How many people even blink at a politician proffering himself as the nation’s new messiah? That idea really isn’t all that unusual in a society that has made a religion out of self-love. Swagger saturates our courts as much as it does our sports arenas; ego fills our boardrooms as well as our “reality” television. And little wonder: Pride is the orthodox instruction in our educational system. We coddle and praise our students from kindergarten to college simply for being uniquely themselves.

The best statesmen, by contrast, have always had a sense of modesty. A basic understanding of their human frailness, a humility about their power to change the world, a sense of living in God’s shadow—even amid the pageantry of high office.

One of America’s greatest presidents was also one of its most reluctant. Why? Slow to assume his office in 1789, George Washington said he lacked “that competency of political skill, abilities and inclination which is necessary to manage the helm.” Washington’s honest appraisal of his own limitations didn’t prevent him from excelling in his duties. Just the opposite. It graced his presidency with dignity, sincerity and reserve, and probably single-handedly prevented America’s most powerful position from morphing into a kind of New World monarchy.

Such noble meekness also marked Lincoln’s administration, evidenced in virtually every speech and letter he composed. “I claim not to have controlled events, but confess plainly that events have controlled me,” he wrote to a Kentucky newspaper editor deep in the midst of the Civil War. “If God now wills the removal of a great wrong, and wills also that we of the North as well as you of the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong, impartial history will find therein new cause to attest and revere the justice and goodness of God.”

Looking further back in history, we have the touching biblical account of wise King Solomon. Given the charge of governing the nation of Israel, he dropped to his knees in heartfelt prayer. “I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in,” he said according to 1 Kings 3. “And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” Is there not something deeply comforting in the knowledge that a leader does not view himself as the ultimate repository of world-saving wisdom, but is humbly submissive to guidance and correction from a Power far greater than himself?

History provides yet another, even better example: the actual Messiah. He said, “I can of mine own self do nothing.” That might sound like false modesty, coming from a man who healed lepers, gave sight to the blind, raised the dead and died for the sins of the world. But what it was, in fact, was a penetrating understanding of the innate, crushing limitations of the flesh.

Had Candy Crowley managed to land an interview and ask Him directly, “Can Jesus Christ save the world?” that’s the answer she’d have gotten: “I can of mine own self do nothing.”

In a modern election campaign, such a statement would be suicide. Politics punishes self-effacement and rewards arrogance.

It’s worth contemplating the enormous cost of our cult of smugness. Besides being undignified and vulgar, it has a sinister side that makes it enormously dangerous.

The natural human resistance to admitting error—the single biggest obstacle to personal growth and spiritual maturity—needs very little nurturing to grow into impossible stubbornness. Truly, clinging to truth against opposition is a virtue. But our nation is plagued by problems of our own making at every level: crushing debt, economic instability, unbridled immorality, family breakdown, immigration and racial tension, an overstretched military—all amid rabid anti-Americanism and the looming existential threats of terrorism and wmd proliferation. Over a period of generations, we have amassed an Everest of evidence proving our utter inability to solve our own problems.

But who will admit it? People speak as if these problems all originated with our current president, and all we need is a suitable replacement. Every candidate for the job is preaching, at its heart, the same message: Yes, the problems are bad. Indeed, the direction this world is going in is an absolute disaster. Disaster! That’s why it’s so critical that you electme.

It rings so hollow. We know it’s false—don’t we?

Really—is this the time for self-promotion and impossible promises? Does anyone really believe we see a potential president in this lot who—forget saving the world—can successfully defuse even one out of the host of crises facing this nation?

Pomposity is the problem, not the solution.